Claude Elwood Shannon – picking out some curious facts

Did you Know that...

- Shannon, as a kid, built model planes, a radio-controlled model boat and a telegraphy system connected to a friend’s house?

- Shannon’s childhood hero was the inventor Thomas Edison? Later, he would mention as references Newton, Darwin, Einstein and von Neumann.

- that his MSc. thesis was considered by H. H. Goldstine as “one of the most important master’s theses ever written…a landmark in that it helped to change digital circuit design from an art to a science”?

- Richard Feynman considered Shannon one of the two engineers in history to have decisively contributed to the foundations of theoretical physics, the other being Sadi Carnot?

- in 1965, he was invited to give lectures in the Soviet Union and played a friendly game against the former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik? Shannon “survived” for 42 moves, which is quite remarkable for an amateur, but eventually resigned.

- in 1980, Shannon was invited, as an honored guest, to an International Computer Chess Championship in Austria, having been universally acknowledged as a pioneer in the field?

- Shannon invented a complete calculator (THROBAC) operating in the Roman numerical system?

- Shannon was a proficient juggler, being able to handle simultaneously up to 4 balls?

- he conceived a “mind-reading” machine based on pattern analysis that used to beat humans in a binary guessing game?

- Shannon caused commotion in Bell Labs with his habit of riding a unicycle while juggling in the corridors?

- he made important contributions to portfolio theory but never published his discoveries (he delivered a lecture at MIT about it)? Shannon did very well in the stock market, be he attributed this fact mostly to his knowledge of the technological scenario of his generation.

- when asked if he was depressed by the growing skill of chess computers, he answered with an emphatic denial and said that he was rooting for the machines and on the machines’ side?

- Shannon built a computer device to increase the probabilities of one winning at the game of roulette?

- he used information theory to study the redundancy inherent to English, and analyzed, as a corollary, the difficulties inherent to the creation of 3-D crossword puzzles?

- Shannon had several automata built by himself in his house, including a robot able to ride a bicycle?

- Shannon was far from being a pragmatist in his scientific endeavor? He did not give priority to usefulness, but to the pleasure of solving an interesting problem. Maybe this is a major example to be taken into account in our scientific milieu.


N. J. A. Sloane, A. D. Wyner (eds.), Claude Elwood Shannon: Collected Papers, Wiley – IEEE Press, 1993.