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Sunday, May 1, 2016

maze, magnetic mouse and Google doodle on Claude Shannon

There are a number of different maze solving algorithms, that is, automated methods for the solving of mazes. The random mouse, wall follower, Pledge, and Trémaux's algorithms are designed to be used inside the maze by a traveller.  Rats have been used in experimental mazes since at least the early 20th century. Thousands of studies have examined how rats run different types of mazes, from T-mazes to radial arm mazes to water mazes. These maze studies are used to study spatial learning and memory in rats.  Rats are particularly gifted at running mazes. Their maze-running ability comes from their evolutionary history: rats are small burrowing rodents that have spent millenia digging and finding their way around underground tunnels. It's no wonder they have a knack with mazes.

Theseus, created in 1950, was a magnetic mouse controlled by a relay circuit that enabled it to move around a maze of 25 squares. Its dimensions were the same as those of an average mouse.  The mouse was designed to search through the corridors until it found the target. Having travelled through the maze, the mouse would then be placed anywhere it had been before and because of its prior experience it could go directly to the target. If placed in unfamiliar territory, it was programmed to search until it reached a known location and then it would proceed to the target, adding the new knowledge to its memory thus learning.Shannon's mouse appears to have been the first artificial learning device of its kind.

Claude Elwood Shannon (1916- 2001) was an American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer.  Shannon is famous for having founded information theory with a landmark paper that he published in 1948. He is perhaps equally well known for founding both digital computer and digital circuit design theory in 1937, when, as a 21-year-old master's degree student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he wrote his thesis demonstrating that electrical applications of Boolean algebra could construct any logical, numerical relationship. Shannon contributed to the field of cryptanalysis for national defense during World War II, including his basic work on code-breaking and secure telecommunications.

In its time the Google Doodle has celebrated mathematicians and eminent people, today it was the turn of Claude Shannon, who worked with Turing on Allied codebreaking during the Second World War; although Shannon's war-time work was crucial to the Allied effort, he did devote some of his energies to more frivolous projects.  Shannon built the world's first juggling robot, using an Erector Set; the robot, which was built to look like the Vaudevillian and film comedian WC Fields, was able to juggle three balls at one time - but bounced and caught them, rather than throwing them in the air and catching them.

Shannon built what he called the Ultimate Machine, which he kept on his desk. It was a simple box with a single switch on it that, when  pressed, opened the box's lid to reveal a mechanical hand that reached out, flipped off the switch.  Shannon was fascinated by game theory, and used to visit Las Vegas with his wife, Betty, and fellow MIT mathematician Ed Thorpe. There they used to play Blackjack, using their mathematical theories to count and predict card sequences.

Claude Shannon died in 2001, although as he had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for some years, he was oblivious to the digital revolution he had helped create. Animated by artist Nate Swinehart, today’s homepage celebrates the brilliance and lightheartedness of the father of modern communication on what would have been his 100th birthday.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

30th Apr 2016

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