Computer History: From The Antikythera Mechanism To The Modern Era

Claude Shannon's Master Thesis

Claude Elwood Shannon's master thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits, was completed in 1937 and many consider it the most important master thesis of the 20th century. In his thesis Shannon shows how the notions of True and False in Boolean Algebra could be used to simulate the operation of switches in electronic circuits. Thanks to his thesis, the electronic engineers of the time were given a mathematical tool that would help them design electronic circuits more easily. The techniques that Shannon's thesis describe are used in the design of modern electronic circuits even today. This fact alone makes it clear why he is considered the founder of digital computers and digital circuit design theory.

In addition to his innovative master thesis, Shannon is also known as "the father of information theory" because of another paper that he published in 1948 called A Mathematical Theory of Communication, which laid the foundations of information theory and started the digital revolution. Shannon enjoyed a pretty long life and died in 2001, when he was 82 years old. However, in his final years he developed Alzheimer's disease. 

Another interesting fact about Shannon is that he built the first wearable computer in order to improve his odds against the roulette. He is also the mind behind the "ultimate machine," the purpose of which is extremely interesting, to say the least. You have a box with a switch on the outside; when you flip the switch the lid of the box opens and a mechanical arm emerges that flips the switch back to the off position and then retracts back inside the box.

In recent years Shannon's ultimate machine design was re-animated by several YouTubers. Apparently, besides being a genius, Shannon also had a great sense of humor, which is something you don't often find in highly recognized innovators and scientists. Beyond any doubt, he offered so much to the computing community and many believe that Shannon, along with Alan Turing, are the two major guiding lights of computer science. We fully agree.

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Contributing Editor

Aris Mpitziopoulos is a Contributing Editor at Tom's Hardware US, covering PSUs.