Google Doodle for Claude Shannon's 100th Anniversary.
Written by Sue Gee   
Saturday, 30 April 2016

Claude Shannon was born on April 30th 1916 and is credited with being the Father of Information Theory, or more colloquially the Father of the Bit, which explains today's Google Doodle.



Of course, in binary digits (bits) the anniversary number should be 1100100.

It was Shannon who first used the word 'bit' in print, in his seminal paper A Mathematical Theory of Communication which originally appeared in 1948 in the July and October issues of Bell Systems Technical Journal in July and October of that year. 

In the paper Shannon credits his colleague at Bell Labs, John Tukey (best known for the development of the FFT (Fast Fourier transform) algorithm), for devising the term:

The choice of a logarithmic base corresponds to the choice of a unit for measuring information. If the base 2 is used the resulting units may be called binary digits, or more briefly bits, a word suggested by J. W. Tukey.

Binary arithmetic for computers is now so taken for granted as the fundamental building block of the digital age, or the information age, that we don't even think of the link between on and off and 0 and 1 as being something that had to be discovered. However this is what Shannon did.

He was introduced to the work of George Boole during his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and then moved on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where worked on Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer. It was while studying the circuits of the differential analyzer that he saw how Boolean logic could be used as an organizing principle and he expounded it in his Master's Thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits in 1937. 

As the article in I Programmer's history section,  Claude Shannon - Information Theory and More makes clear, Shannon was also interested in artificial intelligence and in 1950 he wrote a paper called "Programming a digital computer for playing chess" which essentially invented the whole subject of computer game playing. 

He also built a relay controlled mouse, called Theseus after  the legendary king of Athens who escaped the labyrinth of the Minotaur, that could run a maze and learn by storing the maze pattern as relay states.



Today's Google Doodle also reminds us that, having an interest in juggling, Shannon built the first juggling robot in the 1970s. It was a three-ball bounce juggler built using an Erector construction set.




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