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Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message, recorded as signs, or transmitted as signals.[1] 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."[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] The concept that information is the message has different meanings in different contexts. Thus the concept of information becomes closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, understanding, stimulation, pattern, perception, representation, and entropy.[4]

Variations of information

As sensory input

Often information can be viewed as a type of input to an organism or system. Some inputs are important to the function of the organism (for example, food) or to the system itself (energy) and are called 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 its association with other information, but eventually there must be a connection to a causal input.[5]

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. However, 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, causal inputs serving a nutritional function.[5]

As representation and complexity

One theory says information is a concept that involves at least two related entities in order to make quantitative sense: a dimensionally defined category of objects "S" and any of its subsets "R". In essence "R" is a representation of "S"; it conveys representational (and hence, conceptual) information about "S". The amount of information that "R" conveys about "S" is equivalent to the rate of change in the complexity of "S" whenever the objects in "R" are removed from "S". Under this theory, the universal scientific constructs of pattern, invariance, complexity, representation, and information are unified under a novel mathematical framework.[6][7] 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

Visual representation of the relationship between language, data/facts, information, and knowledge

Information can also be defined as any type of pattern that influences the formation or transformation of other patterns. In this sense, there is no need for a conscious mind to perceive, much less appreciate, the pattern. 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.[8][9]

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 information in this sense is something potentially perceived as representation, though not created or presented for that purpose. For example, anthropologist and social scientist Gregory Bateson defined "information" as a "difference that makes a difference."[10]

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[11][12]:

  • reviewing information in order to effectively derive value and meaning
  • referencing metadata if any is available
  • establishing a relevant context, often selecting from many possible contexts
  • deriving new knowledge from the information
  • making decisions or recommendations from the resulting knowledge

The Danish Dictionary of Information Terms suggests, however, information only provides an answer to a posed question. Whether the answer provides knowledge depends on the informed person.<ref name="DDIT">"information". Informationsordbogen. Informationsvidenskabelige Akademi. Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 05 January 2022.  </ref> Thus a generalized definition of the transformation concept could be "information represents the answer to a specific question."

As a property in physics

Information has had a well-defined meaning in physics.[13] However, in 2003 theoretical physicist J. D. Bekenstein claimed a growing trend in physics was to define the physical world as being made up of information itself.[14] 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.[13]

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. As a result, destroying the information is impossible without increasing the entropy of a system; in practical terms this often means generating heat.[15]

As records

Records are specialized forms of information, produced consciously or as by-products of business activities or transactions and retained because of their value. Organizations value records as evidence of activity, but they may also be retained for their informational value. Sound records management ensures 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."[16]

The International Committee on Archives (ICA), Committee on Electronic Records defined a record as "recorded information produced or received in the initiation, conduct, or completion of an institutional or individual activity and that comprises content, context, and structure sufficient to provide evidence of the activity."[17]

Records may be maintained to retain corporate memory of the organization or to meet legal, fiscal, or accountability requirements imposed on the organization. In 2005 legal expert Anthony Willis elaborated on this view, stating the 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."[18]

Technologically mediated information

In 2011 scientists Martin Hilbert and Priscila López estimated 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.[19] This is the informational equivalent of almost 61 CD-ROM per person in 2007.[20]

Hilbert and López also stated 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.[19], while the world's combined effective capacity to exchange information through two-way telecommunication networks was the informational equivalent of six newspapers per person per day.[20]

Information and semiotics

Scientists can also explain information in terms of signs and signal-sign systems. Signs themselves can be considered in terms of four interdependent levels, layers, or branches of semiotics: pragmatics, semantics, syntax, and empirics. These four layers serve to connect the social world with the physical or technical. The four branches of semiotics are described as such[21][22]:

  1. pragmatics: 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 behavior. In other words, pragmatics links language to action.
  2. semantics: the meaning of a message conveyed in a communicative act - Semantics considers the content of communication, the meaning of signs, and the association between signs and behavior. The study of semantics links symbols and their referents or concepts, particularly the way in which signs relate to human behavior.
  3. syntax: the formalism used to represent a message - Syntax considers the form of communication in terms of the logic and grammar of sign systems. Syntax focuses on form rather than the content of signs and sign systems.
  4. empirics: the signals used to carry a message - Emperics focus on 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.

In 2008, lexicographer Sandro Nielsen discussed 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 they can generate information.[23]

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. We express out intentions through a mutually understood collection of inter-related signs. Mutual understanding implies 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

Further reading

External links


Some elements of this article are reused from the Wikipedia article.


  1. Von Baeyer, Hans Christian (2004). Information: The New Language of Science. Harvard University Press. pp. 258. ISBN 0674013875. 
  2. "information". Unabridged., LLC. Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  3. Wicker, Stephen B.; Kim, Saejoon (2003). Fundamentals of Codes, Graphs, and Iterative Decoding. Springer. pp. 1. ISBN 1402072643. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Floridi, Luciano (2010). Information - A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 130. ISBN 0199551375. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dusenbery, David B. (1992). Sensory Ecology: How Organisms Acquire and Respond to Information. W H Freeman Limited. pp. 558. ISBN 0716723336. 
  6. Vigo, R. (2011). "Representational information: A new general notion and measure of information". Information Sciences 181 (21): 4847–4859. doi:10.1016/j.ins.2011.05.020. 
  7. 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. 
  8. Shannon, Claude E. (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. University of Illinois Press. pp. 117. ISBN 0252725484. 
  9. Casagrande, D.G. (1999). "Information as Verb: Re-conceptualizing Information for Cognitive and Ecological Models". Georgia Journal of Ecological Anthropology 3 (1): 4–13. doi:10.5038/2162-4593.3.1.1. 
  10. Bateson, Gregory (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University of Chicago Press. pp. 448–466. ISBN 0226039056. 
  11. Alavi, M.; Leidner, D.E. (June 1999). "Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management Systems: Conceptual Foundations and Research Issues" (PDF). Emery University. Archived from the original on 26 March 2014. Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  12. Riley, J. (2017) (PDF). Understanding Metadata: What Is Metadata, and What Is It For?. National Information Standards Organization. ISBN 978-1-937522-72-8. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Zurek, Wojciech Hubert, ed. (1990). Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information: The Proceedings of the 1988 Workshop on Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information. Westview Press. pp. 530. ISBN 0201515067. 
  14. Bekenstein, J.D. (August 2003). "Information in the Holographic Universe". Scientific American 289 (2): 58–65. Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  15. Edwards, L. (15 November 2010). "Maxwell's demon demonstration turns information into energy". Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  16. "ISO 15489-1:2016 Information and documentation — Records management — Part 1: Concepts and principles". International Organization for Standardization. April 2016. Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  17. "Networked Electronic Information in the Internet and Intranet Environments" (PDF). International Committee on Archives (ICA), Committee on Electronic Records. 27 August 2000. Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  18. Willis, A. (2005). "Corporate governance and management of information and records". Records Management Journal 15 (2): 86–97. doi:10.1108/09565690510614238. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Hilbert, M.; López, P. (2011). "The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information". Science 332 (6025): 60-65. doi:10.1126/science.1200970. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Hilbert, M. (11 June 2011). "World_info_capacity_animation". YouTube. Retrieved 05 January 2022. 
  21. Beynon-Davies, P. (2002). Information Systems: An Introduction to Informatics in Organisations. Palgrave Macmillan Limited. pp. 595. ISBN 0333963903. 
  22. Beynon-Davies, P. (2009). Business Information Systems. Palgrave Macmillan Limited. pp. 512. ISBN 023020368X. 
  23. Nielsen, S. (2008). "The Effect of Lexicographical Information Costs on Dictionary Making and Use" (PDF). Lexikos 18: 170–189. ISSN 1684-4904. Archived from the original on 28 April 2019. Retrieved 05 January 2022.