Claude Shannon was a curious man, a juggler who rode his unicycle in the hallways of AT&T Bell Laboratories and the mathematician who laid the foundation for all digital communications back when the biggest pipes could carry only 1,800 voice conversations at a time. He died Feb. 24 at the age of 84.
Shannons seminal work was his Massachusetts Institute of Technology masters thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits. The thesis, considered one of the most important ever written, established the fundamental theories of digital circuits — the basis for the operation of computers and telecommunications systems.
Shannons second great work, A Mathematical Theory of Communications, published a decade later in 1948, established the framework and terminology of coding theory — the study of how to efficiently and reliably move information over so-called noisy channels.
"We all have an intuitive understanding of what communication means," said Patrick Regan, a spokesman at Bell Labs, which is now part of Lucent Technologies. "He defined it mathematically."
Shannons information-theory concepts are in use today by telecommunications scientists working to move larger and larger streams of data over faster channels, which now manage 6.4 million converations at a time.
"He was one of the great scientists of all times," said Serap Savari, an information theorist at Bell Labs. "Its a pity that more people dont know more about him."