The Aloof Blackjack Player Who Created Our Digital World

Illustration for article titled The Aloof Blackjack Player Who Created Our Digital World

Every digital device you use operates on a string of ones and zeroes, the binary "yes/no" decision at the foundation of modern computing. It's a concept so fundamental to our modern day that we rarely stop to wonder where it came from. But it's all the work of one man: Claude Shannon, whose fascinating story you've likely never heard.


The name would mean nothing to me, either, if it weren't for this gorgeous little video essay from Delve. Shannon, a mathematician, electronic engineer, and cryptographer, was the first person to understand that any form of data could be transferred in the most basic packets: bits, nothing more than a slew of yes and no toggles. As Delve explains, that idea forever changed the way we communicate.

Shannon's work earned him little fame, but the first principles he theorized make every digital thing we do today possible. As we type, tap, pinch, zoom, dictate, download, message and chat our way through every day, it's hard to imagine what life would be like without his innovations.


While my respect for Shannon is unbounded, it is a fact of history that Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) first conceived of binary notation, publishing it in Explication de l'Arithm├ętique Binaire in 1679. He went on to invent the shift register, and conceived of a binary language to express all facts and thoughts, and a card-controlled machine to process them.