By Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni
For the last five years, we lived with one of the most brilliant people on the planet.
See, we just published the biography of Dr. Claude Shannon. He’s the most important genius you’ve never heard of, a man whose intellect was on par with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.
We spent five years with him. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, during that period, we spent more time with the deceased Claude Shannon than we have with many of our living friends. He became something like the roommate in the spare bedroom of our minds, the guy who was always hanging around and occupying our head space.
Yes, we were the ones telling his story, but in telling it, he affected us, too. Geniuses don’t approach the world the way the rest of us do, but that’s why they can hold up a useful mirror to how all of us live and work. Whether or not we intended it to, becoming literate in Claude Shannon’s life gave us lessons on how to live our own. That’s what follows in this essay. Think of it as the good stuff our roommate left behind.
His name may not ring a bell. Don’t worry, we didn’t know who he was either.
So who was he? We like to think of him as a cross between Albert Einstein and the Dos Equis guy.
Within engineering and mathematics circles, Shannon is a revered figure. Claude Shannon’s work in the 1930s and 1940s earned him the title of “father of the information age.” At the age of 21, he published what’s been called the most important master’s thesis of all time, explaining how binary switches could do logic. It laid the foundation for all future digital computers.
He wasn’t done. At the age of 32, he published “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” which has been called “the Magna Carta of the information age.” Shannon’s masterwork invented the bit, or the objective measurement of information, and explained how digital codes could allow us to compress and send any message with perfect accuracy.
But that’s not all he did.