Concepts of Information
“Information” is a versatile word. It’s the name we attach to the age we live in, to and the technologies that define it, to the society and economy that they give rise to, and to the "revolution" that these technologies launch. It characterizes a variety of professions, activities, and social conditions (information architect, CIO, information overload, information haves and have-nots, information warfare), and not incidentally the new faculties that take “information” as their unifying focus. The word figures as a theoretical or technical term in a number of disciplines, including AI, computer science, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, economics, political science and information theory. In short, the word stands (along with its sister “data”) for a welter of social, technological and intellectual connections that seem to define a large swath of modern life.
In this class, we will not be trying to define “information” or “data” (though we’ll look at some attempts to do so). Rather we want to take the word as a point of entry to explore the connections and ideologies that it evokes. Why do people assume, for example, that the bits and bytes sitting on their hard drives are the same as the stuff that creates social revolutions and whose free exchange is necessary to the health of democratic society? (Would we make those connections if we didn’t use the word “information” to describe them?) How are the notions of information deployed by management science or artificial intelligence connected to the information theory developed by Shannon?
We’ll be taking on these questions by discussing readings both from historical periods and from a range of disciplines, focusing on the some of notions (such as “information,” “data,” “platform,” “technology,” “knowledge”) that seem to connect them.