The history of computing is strongly connected with other fields of research and interest, from biology and neuroscience to sociology, communication, military and history events. Beside the invention and innovation of computer technologies, the proper nomenclature had to be invented and appropriated. As such, many researchers and great thinkers took an interest in this field. One of the most renowned and important scientist that would revolutionize the digital age was Claude Shannon. Many visionaries (like John von Neumann or Alan Turing) may have given us computers that could process information, but it was Claude Shannon who gave us the modern concept of information.
Studying electrical engineering and working on the Differential Analyzer (an analog computer) and then on military projects (antiaircraft fire control, cryptography), Shannon would revolutionize the entire science of information theory. It is often said that the information theory grew out of one electrifying paper that Shannon published in 1948 (“A Mathematical Theory of Communication”), when he was a 32-year-old researcher at Bell Laboratories. Shannon showed how the once-vague notion of information could be defined and quantified with absolute precision. He demonstrated how every type of communication (text, telephone signals, radio waves, pictures, film) could be encoded in the universal language of binary digits. Shannon laid forth the idea that once information became digital, it could be transmitted without error.
In his spare time, Shannon was also a great inventor, building all manner of bizarre machines and technologies, from Throbac (THrifty ROman-numerical BAckward-looking Computer), a calculator that did arithmetic with Roman numerals to Theseus, a life-sized mechanical mouse that could find its way through a maze. His most famous invention was the “Ultimate Machine”, a box with a large switch on the side. If you would turn the switch on, the lid would slowly rise, revealing a mechanical hand that would reach down, turn the switch off, and withdraw, leaving the box just as it was.
Shannon was a complex thinker and revolutionizer. He had the insight for organizing the internal operations of modern computers a decade before computers even existed. He lost however interest in the field as it became more popular, but to this day designers still talk and think in terms of internal “logic”, a concept inspired by Shannon’s work.