Shannon’s Transmission Model

Shannon’s Transmission Model

Yingxin Lyu

In Shannon1’s original diagram for the transmission model, there are five main elements: information source, transmitter, noise source, receiver, and destination. In addition, when inputting information source into the transmitter, it should be first encoded into binary language to protect the integrity of the source information. It should be decoded before it arrives at destination. Noise may appear in every part, which will lead to misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the information source.

Taking social network as an example, if a person wants to post some information on his or her facebook page, first, he or she need to what kind of information he want to post, photos, videos, or words, and that is information source. Then, the person will input the information with keyboard, or use camera to take photos or videos. In the process these information being stored in the smartphone, they have been encoded in binary language. Then, this coded information will be transmitted through Internet, and decoded into original format, words, photos, or videos, to be present on the screen of receivers. Moreover, the noise can exist in any part of the process. For example, the person who uploads the information may input some wrong information, or the internet doesn’t work well which leads to the incompletion of information uploading.

However, the signal-code-transmission model is not a description of meaning, because it only presents how a medium transmits information, and the function of understanding is only owned by human beings. According to The Information Paradox2, “Information always has two parts, sign and referent. Meaning is the association between the two.” Now the model only provide a way about how signs, as a part of meaning, being transmitted by media. As posts on Facebook, what people input words that they want to say, but the real meaning of these words still need other people to understand. Smartphones cannot replace humans’ brains to understand the meaning; they only present and transmit. The referent of a sign can be understood by human, and now it may also be received and processed by AI system, but only a medium worked as transmitting tool cannot describe and understand the meaning.

Even in the current society, the model can be applied in many digital products, like smartphones, interactive applications, computers, and so on. It is a very broad description of how information transmitting tools work. For these tools, they are actually machines, so they need to follow some rules to work, and the binary system provide them a rule to encode and decode information input. When they are working as the model, they are following the rule, translating each word or signal into the combination of 1 and 0, or performing the adverse process. The process is computational and mathematical. However, symbol system can never be simplified as such a mathematical process. Letters, Words, and sentences can be translated into binary language in a constant way, but translation from one language to another is a very demanding process. Even now, we got AI technology, virtual reality, and many other very advanced technology, but a human translator is still cannot be replaced by a kind of machine. The reason is that human’s symbol system is a great and complicated work that cannot be understood completely by machines which can only follow the rules.


  1. Shannon, Claude E. “A mathematical theory of communication.” The Bell system technical journal 27, no. 3 (1948): 379-423.
  2. Denning, Peter J., and Tim Bell. “The information paradox.” American Scientist 100, no. 6 (2012): 470-477.