Monday, February 28, 2011

Claude E. Shannon - father of information engineering

If we speak about people who shaped informatics / software engineering, we cannot forget "the father of information age", Shannon, who died nearly exactly 10 years ago, on february 24th, 2001. One of his writing was claimed the "Magna Charta of the Information Age" - and probably this essay shaped our present much more than the now 10 years old other "Magna Charta".

Without him, we may not be able to listen to CDs or MP3s, or make phone calls on our mobile, let alone connect to a WiFi network.

But who was this guy?

Shannon was born in Michigan, in 1916; he did his bachelor's degree on two courses parallel: in mathematics and in electrical engineering.

His master's thesis from MIT is the most influental master's theses ever written, as of today: it's about the application of boolean algebra to digital circuits, so, in short: he invented digital logic.

But it wasn't his only invention. He joined Bell Labs, where he worked on digital transmission of phone talks. During the war he worked on crytography.

Following the war, two of his essays appeared to the public: "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" in 1948 and "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems" in 1949.

The boundaries of the effects of these are still to be seen:

- taking the bit as not only a measurement for transmission, but of the information itself makes us in itself able to digitize the things surrounding us;
- setting the theoretical boundaries of transmission speed made us able to reach today's high-speed networks, both wired and unwired; two of his pupils founded Qualcomm, one of the leading UMTS chipset manufacturers, but the effects are general to the industry itself
- showing the behaviour of information vs noise we were able to invent the CD, and even the MP3, besides the above mentioned communication netwokrs
- he set the basic theory of modern cryptography systems

His hindsights paved the way for future generations to be there where we are now in terms of communication, and understanding the nature of the information.

Besides these not so small things, he constructed the formula of joggling - his favourite hobbi - but also implemented a well-known geek toy: The Ultimate Machine.

While most of the inventions of the world were a result of social change, and were invented paralelly by multiple people at the same time, it's still of question, wether we would be here without him.

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