Information is notorious for coming in many forms and having many meanings. It can be associated with several explanations, depending on the perspective adopted and the requirements and desiderata one has in mind. The father of information theory, Claude Shannon (1916-2001), for one, was very cautious:
"The word "information" has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory. It is likely that at least a number of these will prove sufficiently useful in certain applications to deserve further study and permanent recognition. It is hardly to be expected that the single concept of information would satisfactorily account for the numerous possible applications of this general field.
Indeed, Warren Weaver (1894-1978), one of the pioneers of machine translation and co-author with Shannon of The Mathematical Theory of Communication, supported at tripartite analysis of information in terms of
1. Technical problems concerning the quantification of information and dealt with by Shannon's theory.
2. Semantic problems relating to meaning in truth.
3. And what he called "influential" problems concerning the impact and effectiveness of information on human behaviour, which is thought To play an equally important role.
Boe: syntax - semantics - pragmatics
Shannon and Weaver provide to early examples of the problem raised by any analysis of information. The plethora of different into predation is can be confusing, and complaints about misunderstandings and Ms uses of the very idea of information are frequently expressed, even if a parent led to no avail. This book seeks to provide a map of the main senses in which one may speak of information.
4 Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
8 ICTs have made the creation, management, and utilisation of information, communication, and computational resources vital issues, not only in our understanding of the world and of our interactions with it, but also in our self-assessment and identity. In other words, computer science and ICTs had brought about a fourth revolution.
9 Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud
Oversimplifying, science has two fundamental ways of changing our understanding. One may be called extrovert, or about the world, and the other introvert, or about ourselves. Three scientific revolutions have had great impact both extrovertly and introvertly. In changing our understanding of the external world they also modified our conceptions of who we are. After Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the heliocentric cosmology displace the Earth and hence humanity from the centre of the universe. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) showed that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through natural selection, thus displacing humanity from the centre of the biological kingdom. And following Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), we acknowledge nowadays that the mind is also unconscious and subject to the defence mechanisms of repression. So we're not in mobile, at the centre of the universe (Copernican revolution), we are not unnaturally separate and diverse from the rest of the animal kingdom (Darwinian revolution), and we are very far from being standalone minds entirely transparent to ourselves, as René Descartes (1596-1650), for example, assumed (Freudian revolution).
One may easily questioned the value of this classic picture. After all, Freud was the first to interpret these three revolutions as part of a single process of re-assessment of human nature and his perspective was blatantly self-serving.
But replace Freud with cognitive science or neuroscience, and we can still find the framework useful to explain our intuition that something very significant and profound has recently happened to human self-understanding.
Since the 1950s, computer science and ICTs have exercised both an extrovert and an introvert influence, changing not only our interactions with the world but also our self understanding.
In many respects, we're not stand-alone entities, but rather interconnected information organisms or inforgs, sharing with biological agents and engineered artefacts a global environment ultimately made of information, the Infosphere. This is the informational environment constituted by all informational processes, services, and entities, thus including informational agents as well as their properties, interactions, and mutual relations.
If we need a representative scientist for the fourth revolution, this should definitely be Alan Turing(1912-1954.
10 The fourth revolution is bringing to light the intrinsically informational nature of human agents. This is more than just saying that individuals have started having a "data shadow" or digital alto ego. What is in question is a quieter, less sensational, and yet crucial and profound change in our conception of what it means to be an agent and what sort of environment these new agents in habit. It is a change that is happening not through some fanciful alterations in our bodies, or some science-fictional speculations about our post-human condition but, far more seriously and realistically, through a radical transformation of our understanding of reality and of ourselves.
12 What we are currently experiencing is therefore a fourth revolution, in the process of dislocation and reassessment of our fundamental nature and role in the universe. We are modifying our everyday perspective on the ultimate nature of reality, that is, our metaphysics, from the materialist one, in which physical objects and processes play a key role, to an informational one.
This shift means that objects and processes are de-physicalised in the sense that they tend to be seen as support-independent (consider a music file). They are typified, in the sense that an instance of an object (my copy of music file) is as good as its type (your music file of which my copy is an instance). And they are assumed to be by default perfectly clonable, in the sense that my copy and your original become interchangeable. Less stress on the physical nature of objects and processes means that the right of usage is perceived to be at least as important as the right to ownership.
Finally, the criterion for existence - what it means the something to exist - is no longer being actually immutable (the Greeks thought that only that which does not change can be said to exist fully), or being potentially subject to perception (modern philosophy insisted on something being perceivable empirically through the five senses in order to qualify as existing), but being potentially subject to interaction, even if intangible.
12 To be is to be interactable, even if the interaction is only indirect.
17 Our view of the world (our metaphysics) is still the modern or Newtonian: it is made of „dead“ cars, buildings, furniture, clothes, which are non-interactive, is responsive, and incapable of communicating, learning, or memorising. But in advanced information societies, what we still experience as the world offline is bound to become a fully interactive and more responsive environment of wireless, pervasive, distributed, a2a (anything to anything) information processes, that works a4a (anywhere for any time), in real-time.
Such a world will first gently invite us to understand it as something „a-live“ (artificially live). This animation of the world will then, paradoxically, make our outlook closer to that of pre-technological cultures, which interpreted all aspects of nature as inhabited by teleological forces.
Boe: teleological forces
This leads to a reconceptualisation of our metaphysics in informational terms. It will become normal to consider the world as part of the Infosphere, not so much in the dystopian sense expressed by a Matrix-like scenario, where the „real reality“ is still as hard as the metal of the machines that inhabit it; but in the evolutionary, hybrid sense represented by an environment such as Newport City, the fictional, post-cybernetic metropolis of Ghost in the Shell.
The Infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely „material“ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the Infosphere.
At the end of this shift, the Infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with reality. This is the sort of informational metaphysics that we may find increasingly easy to embrace.
As a consequence of such transformations in our ordinary environment, we shall be living in an Infosphere that will become increasingly synchronised (time), de-localised (space) and correlated (interactions). Previous revolutions (especially the agricultural and the industrial ones) created macroscopic transformation in our social structures and architectural environments, often without much foresight.
The information revolution is no less dramatic. We shall be in trouble if we do not take seriously the fact that we are constructing the new environment that will be inhabited by future generations. We shall see that we should probably be working on an ecology of the Infosphere, if we wish to avoid foreseeable problems. Unfortunately, it will take some time and a whole new kind of education and sensitivity to realise that the Infosphere is a common space, which needs to be preserved to the advantage of all.
Beobachtung Dritter Ordnung