Inventor Superhero: Claude Shannon

Insights

Inventor Superhero: Claude Shannon

April 8, 2016

Just like Marvel Comic’s heroes, inventors venture into unexplored territory, overcome obstacles, and improve the world around them. Tinkering away in their invention lairs, inventors make the real-life gadgets that crack codes and save the world. They have the brainpower to solve complex problems that ordinary citizens can’t match. And like our most beloved superheroes, inventors inspire us to strive for ingenuity and pursue our dreams.

Inventor Superhero: Claude Elwood Shannon (1916-2001)

Superpowers: Mathematics, cryptography, card tricks, unicycling, juggling

Eureka! Moment:  When Shannon was in his 30s, he showed that text, telephone signals, radio waves, pictures, film — any form of communication — could be encoded in bits. This universal language written in binary digits 1 and 0 is known as binary code. Shannon developed a theory that once information was transcribed in binary code, it could be perfectly transmitted without error. His theory made it possible to use bits in computer storage. Today, many communication lines are measured in bits per second.

Cool Gadget: The Ultimate Machine. Shannon built a box with a large switch on the side. When the switch is flipped on, the lid rises to reveal a mechanical hand. The hand then reaches down, turns off the switch, and withdraws, leaving the box in its original closed state.

Superhero Lair: Bell Laboratories and MIT

Childhood Hero: Thomas Edison, who was Shannon’s distant cousin

Nemesis: Groupies. In his 1956 paper The Bandwagon, Shannon declared that Information Theory was being oversold. “It has perhaps ballooned to an importance beyond its actual accomplishments,” he wrote.

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