Sunday, September 25, 2011

Adding to our knowledge

Information informs, adds to knowledge.  So, if I tell you that the dictionary contains words, you would only be getting information from my statement if you didn't already know what is inside the dictionary.  

OK, that is not strictly true because if I tell you that the dictionary contains words, you know that I told you something that is rather obvious on its face.  You now know that I seem to be the sort of person who says things that aren't very helpful.

It was attention-getting when Brian Christian wrote in The Most Human Human: What Talking to Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive that Claude Shannon wrote the most important master's thesis ever written in 1948 when he wrote A Mathematical Theory of Communication, (PDF file, free) which founded what is sometimes called "information theory".  

Of course, there are many other candidates for a wonderful ground-breaking thesis, but the recognition of what information is, attempts to make use of it, transmit it and preserve it are everywhere these days.  It is natural for us to reflect on what information is when we find we are changing things into a digital format that we never used to have, or associate with books, movies, pictures, sounds, speech, blueprints and all sorts of records.

Right now, I have a note to myself to get around to three books on information science and theory:

I have read the second book listed but I got lost and didn't understand it.  Somewhat like learning HTML coding or other aspects of computers and for that matter, car engines, I like to buzz around the edges of the subject but serious steady study is not for me.

If you remember the hullabaloo related to the year change from 1999 to 2000, the Y2K worry and danger, and if you have seen the articles that predict any further wars countries are engaged in will be computer battles as well as people battles, you realize that the oil and other energy supply, the food supply and the electricity supply depend on all kinds of machines and their ability to process information.  If you, like me, were impressed that the bet between Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne v. John Preskill was about information coming out of black holes, you had heard another reference to information and its importance.  Even, if, like me, you have only a vague notion of what they were talking about.  If you, like me, are aware of the increasing problem of identity theft, you realize the importance of information that would allow bad guys to convince others that it is you asking for a loan.  A few decades ago, my university didn't have that very important office: information technology, that is, instructional, faculty and student computers.  Now, it even has an office of information security.  That office just hours ago sent out a link to the Better Business Bureau's information on the top online scams.  In today's world, we have information, error, and disinformation.

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