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The ASCII codes for the word "Wikipedia" represented in binary, the numeral system most commonly used for encoding textual computer information.

Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message. Information can be recorded as signs, or transmitted as signals. Information is any kind of event that affects the state of a dynamic system that can interpret the information.

Conceptually, information is the message (utterance or expression) being conveyed. Therefore, in a general sense, information is "Knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance", or rather, information is an answer to a question.[citation needed] Information cannot be predicted and resolves uncertainty. The uncertainty of an event is measured by its probability of occurrence and is inversely proportional to that. The more uncertain an event, the more information is required to resolve uncertainty of that event. The amount of information is measured in bits. Example: information in one "fair" coin flip: log2(2/1) = 1 bit, and in two fair coin flips is log2(4/1) = 2 bits.

The concept that information is the message has different meanings in different contexts.[1] Thus the concept of information becomes closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form,[disambiguation needed] instruction, knowledge, meaning, understanding, mental stimuli, pattern, perception, representation, and entropy.


The English word was apparently derived from the Latin stem (information-) of the nominative (informatio): this noun is derived from the verb "informare" (to inform) in the sense of "to give form to the mind", "to discipline", "instruct", "teach": "Men so wise should go and inform their kings." (1330) Inform itself comes (via French informer) from the Latin verb informare, which means to give form, or to form an idea of. Furthermore, Latin itself already contained the word informatio meaning concept or idea, but the extent to which this may have influenced the development of the word information in English is not clear.

The ancient Greek word for form was μορφή (morphe; cf. morph) and also εἶδος (eidos) "kind, idea, shape, set", the latter word was famously used in a technical philosophical sense by Plato (and later Aristotle) to denote the ideal identity or essence of something (see Theory of Forms). "Eidos" can also be associated with thought, proposition, or even concept.

Information theory approach[edit]

From the stance of information theory, information is taken as a sequence of symbols from an alphabet, say an input alphabet χ, and an output alphabet ϒ. Information processing consists of an input-output function that maps any input sequence from χ into an output sequence from ϒ. The mapping may be probabilistic or determinate. It may have memory or be memoryless.[2]

As sensory input[edit]

Often information can be viewed as a type of input to an organism or system. Inputs are of two kinds; some inputs are important to the function of the organism (for example, food) or system (energy) by themselves. In his book Sensory Ecology[3] Dusenbery called these causal inputs. Other inputs (information) are important only because they are associated with causal inputs and can be used to predict the occurrence of a causal input at a later time (and perhaps another place). Some information is important because of association with other information but eventually there must be a connection to a causal input. In practice, information is usually carried by weak stimuli that must be detected by specialized sensory systems and amplified by energy inputs before they can be functional to the organism or system. For example, light is often a causal input to plants but provides information to animals. The colored light reflected from a flower is too weak to do much photosynthetic work but the visual system of the bee detects it and the bee's nervous system uses the information to guide the bee to the flower, where the bee often finds nectar or pollen, which are causal inputs, serving a nutritional function.

As representation and complexity[edit]

The cognitive scientist and applied mathematician Ronaldo Vigo argues that information is a concept that involves at least two related entities in order to make quantitative sense. These are, any dimensionally defined category of objects S, and any of its subsets R. R, in essence, is a representation of S, or, in other words, conveys representational (and hence, conceptual) information about S. Vigo then defines the amount of information that R conveys about S as the rate of change in the complexity of S whenever the objects in R are removed from S. Under "Vigo information", pattern, invariance, complexity, representation, and information—five fundamental constructs of universal science—are unified under a novel mathematical framework.[4][5] Among other things, the framework aims to overcome the limitations of Shannon-Weaver information when attempting to characterize and measure subjective information.

As an influence which leads to a transformation[edit]

Information is any type of pattern that influences the formation or transformation of other patterns.[6][7] In this sense, there is no need for a conscious mind to perceive, much less appreciate, the pattern.[citation needed] Consider, for example, DNA. The sequence of nucleotides is a pattern that influences the formation and development of an organism without any need for a conscious mind.

Systems theory at times seems to refer to information in this sense, assuming information does not necessarily involve any conscious mind, and patterns circulating (due to feedback) in the system can be called information. In other words, it can be said that information in this sense is something potentially perceived as representation, though not created or presented for that purpose. For example, Gregory Bateson defines "information" as a "difference that makes a difference".[8]

If, however, the premise of "influence" implies that information has been perceived by a conscious mind and also interpreted by it, the specific context associated with this interpretation may cause the transformation of the information into knowledge. Complex definitions of both "information" and "knowledge" make such semantic and logical analysis difficult, but the condition of "transformation" is an important point in the study of information as it relates to knowledge, especially in the business discipline of knowledge management. In this practice, tools and processes are used to assist a knowledge worker in performing research and making decisions, including steps such as:

Stewart (2001) argues that the transformation of information into knowledge is a critical one, lying at the core of value creation and competitive advantage for the modern enterprise.

The Danish Dictionary of Information Terms[9] argues that information only provides an answer to a posed question. Whether the answer provides knowledge depends on the informed person. So a generalized definition of the concept should be: "Information" = An answer to a specific question".

When Marshall McLuhan speaks of media and their effects on human cultures, he refers to the structure of artifacts that in turn shape our behaviors and mindsets. Also, pheromones are often said to be "information" in this sense.

As a property in physics[edit]

Information has a well-defined meaning in physics. In 2003 J. D. Bekenstein claimed that a growing trend in physics was to define the physical world as being made up of information itself (and thus information is defined in this way) (see Digital physics). Examples of this include the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, where particles can interact without reference to their separation or the speed of light. Information itself cannot travel faster than light even if the information is transmitted indirectly. This could lead to all attempts at physically observing a particle with an "entangled" relationship to another being slowed down, even though the particles are not connected in any other way other than by the information they carry.

Another link is demonstrated by the Maxwell's demon thought experiment. In this experiment, a direct relationship between information and another physical property, entropy, is demonstrated. A consequence is that it is impossible to destroy information without increasing the entropy of a system; in practical terms this often means generating heat. Another more philosophical outcome is that information could be thought of as interchangeable with energy.[citation needed] Thus, in the study of logic gates, the theoretical lower bound of thermal energy released by an AND gate is higher than for the NOT gate (because information is destroyed in an AND gate and simply converted in a NOT gate). Physical information is of particular importance in the theory of quantum computers.

Technologically mediated information[edit]

It is estimated that the world's technological capacity to store information grew from 2.6 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 1986 – which is the informational equivalent to less than one 730-MB CD-ROM per person (539 MB per person) – to 295 (optimally compressed) exabytes in 2007.[10] This is the informational equivalent of almost 61 CD-ROM per person in 2007.[11]

The world’s combined technological capacity to receive information through one-way broadcast networks was the informational equivalent of 174 newspapers per person per day in 2007.[10]

The world's combined effective capacity to exchange information through two-way telecommunication networks was the informational equivalent of 6 newspapers per person per day in 2007.[11]

As records[edit]

Records are specialized forms of information. Essentially, records are information produced consciously or as by-products of business activities or transactions and retained because of their value. Primarily, their value is as evidence of the activities of the organization but they may also be retained for their informational value. Sound records management ensures that the integrity of records is preserved for as long as they are required.

The international standard on records management, ISO 15489, defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". The International Committee on Archives (ICA) Committee on electronic records defined a record as, "a specific piece of recorded information generated, collected or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an activity and that comprises sufficient content, context and structure to provide proof or evidence of that activity".

Records may be maintained to retain corporate memory of the organization or to meet legal, fiscal or accountability requirements imposed on the organization. Willis (2005) expressed the view that sound management of business records and information delivered "...six key requirements for good corporate governance...transparency; accountability; due process; compliance; meeting statutory and common law requirements; and security of personal and corporate information."

Information and semiotics[edit]

Beynon-Davies[12][13] explains the multi-faceted concept of information in terms of signs and signal-sign systems. Signs themselves can be considered in terms of four inter-dependent levels, layers or branches of semiotics: pragmatics, semantics, syntax, and empirics. These four layers serve to connect the social world on the one hand with the physical or technical world on the other...

Pragmatics is concerned with the purpose of communication. Pragmatics links the issue of signs with the context within which signs are used. The focus of pragmatics is on the intentions of living agents underlying communicative behaviour. In other words, pragmatics link language to action.

Semantics is concerned with the meaning of a message conveyed in a communicative act. Semantics considers the content of communication. Semantics is the study of the meaning of signs - the association between signs and behaviour. Semantics can be considered as the study of the link between symbols and their referents or concepts – particularly the way in which signs relate to human behavior.

Syntax is concerned with the formalism used to represent a message. Syntax as an area studies the form of communication in terms of the logic and grammar of sign systems. Syntax is devoted to the study of the form rather than the content of signs and sign-systems.

Empirics is the study of the signals used to carry a message; the physical characteristics of the medium of communication. Empirics is devoted to the study of communication channels and their characteristics, e.g., sound, light, electronic transmission etc..

Nielsen (2008) discusses the relationship between semiotics and information in relation to dictionaries. The concept of lexicographic information costs is introduced and refers to the efforts users of dictionaries need to make in order to, first, find the data sought and, secondly, understand the data so that they can generate information.

Communication normally exists within the context of some social situation. The social situation sets the context for the intentions conveyed (pragmatics) and the form in which communication takes place. In a communicative situation intentions are expressed through messages which comprise collections of inter-related signs taken from a language which is mutually understood by the agents involved in the communication. Mutual understanding implies that agents involved understand the chosen language in terms of its agreed syntax (syntactics) and semantics. The sender codes the message in the language and sends the message as signals along some communication channel (empirics). The chosen communication channel will have inherent properties which determine outcomes such as the speed with which communication can take place and over what distance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A short overview is found in: Luciano Floridi (2010). Information - A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-160954-4. "The goal of this volume is to provide an outline of what information is..." 
  2. ^ Stephen B. Wicker, Saejoon Kim (2003). Fundamentals of Codes, Graphs, and Iterative Decoding. Springer. pp. 1 ff. ISBN 1-4020-7264-3. 
  3. ^ Dusenbery, David B. (1992). Sensory Ecology. W.H. Freeman., New York. ISBN 0-7167-2333-6.
  4. ^ Vigo, R. (2011). "Representational information: a new general notion and measure of information". Information Sciences, 181 (2011),4847-4859. 
  5. ^ Vigo, R. (2013).Complexity over Uncertainty in Generalized Representational Information Theory (GRIT): A Structure-Sensitive General Theory of Information. Information, 4(1), 1-30; doi:10.3390/info4010001
  6. ^ Shannon, Claude E. (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. 
  7. ^ Casagrande, David (1999). "Information as verb: Re-conceptualizing information for cognitive and ecological models". Journal of Ecological Anthropology 3 (1): 4–13. 
  8. ^ Bateson, Gregory (1972). ^ Form, Substance, and Difference, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. University of Chicago Press. pp. 448–466. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b "The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information", Martin Hilbert and Priscila López (2011), Science (journal), 332(6025), 60-65; free access to the article through here:
  11. ^ a b "video animation on The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information from 1986 to 2010
  12. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2002). Information Systems: an introduction to informatics in Organisations. Palgrave, Basingstoke, UK. ISBN 0-333-96390-3
  13. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2009). Business Information Systems. Palgrave, Basingstoke. ISBN 978-0-230-20368-6

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]