Implications of Information Age

published in  1992 (Computer Jagat)

Shahzaman Mozumder. Bir Protik

Now a days we often hear of information revolution, information explosion, Information Technology and many parallel phrases starting or ending with the term “information”.

In this write up, first, I will try to define information and then, discuss the implications of information technology and its influence on individuals, culture, nation and also how it could affect our level of civilization.

In order to understand “Information Technology” we need to know about both “Information” and the “Technology” which is driving the “information”.

We will start by trying to define information. But before defining information, we are forced to introduce anther term “data”, which is closely related and sometimes loosely used as synonymous with information. Although data and information are closely related, they do have some subtle differences.

A “data” is based on observations or characteristics or facts about entities. For example my name is a kind of data, and at times it can also be information. Now let us take another data item “12345″. What information could we obtain from “12345″. In fact, very little. Because “12345″ could be my passport number, the number of my telephone, it could be the serial number of my computer, or the number of one of my prize bonds. Therefore, in order to transform data into information, first, we must introduce the “context. Now it we introduce the context of computer serial number over data item “12345″, we understand that it is the serial number of some computer. Likewise, by changing context we can vary the information that a particular data item conveys. Often, context, alone is not enough to derive the entire information content from data, for example, Kantcr, Rosabcth Moss, what would be the conclusion? It seems to be the name of some person, but what is the name? Although the context is known, the information content is not very clear. In order to obtain the full information content from the above name, we must introduce” rcprcscntation”. Now, if the data representation is : last name, first name; the name is Rosabcth Moss Kan-ter, if representation is changed to: first name, last name; the name is Kanter Rosabcth Moss. Take the example of 880-2-863511, some of you can already guess but for others it may be difficult given the context of only telephone number. Therefore, we can write: information = data + codntext + representation.

Having defined data as above, let us see if our definition holds. I would ask you to accompany me to a typical farmer at a remote village and give this information (information to me) that Holyfield defeated Larry Holmes today (June 20, 1992). The farmer may not be interested in boxing and may not know who is Hol-lyficld or Holmes. He would possibly shrug his shoulder and keep about his own business. Now what inference could we draw? It seems that, what is information to me, may or may not be information to the farmer! We see that information becomes personal or at least follows a direction. Therefore, it seems that the definition above is not complete and it is necessary to introduce the notion of “interest” or “need”. There must be need for converting data into information, otherwise, even if we know the context and representation, the data my not transport any meaning. Why do we need to transform data into information? For various reasons like; to satisfy an interest, to acquire knowledge, to compete, to be socially acceptable, to win, to conquer, to lead, to follow.d to earn a living, to survive, the list can go on and on.

Now let us examine the distinction between fact and information? For example, if I tell you that a stone thrown upwards will come down, will you accept that as information? A similar example would be to say that the sun will rise tomorrow, or the name of the country we live in is Bangladesh. Are these facts information.

These facts possibly are information to an infant, who is getting accustomed to the new world. But to us grown ups, they are probably not information, they are facts. Think for a moment if you would be interested if someone told you that the sun will rise tomorrow.

According to information theory, to be classified as information, among

other things, the probability of the associated event (data) must not be zero or one, i.e., the event must not be impossible (probability zero) or certain (probability one).

Having defined the distinction between data and information, let us focus our attention to information. The readers are warned that henceforth data and information may be used interchangeably havidng noted their semantic differences.

Let us examine the following questions:

* Why do we need information?

* What is information quality and quantity?

*   How information affect our lives, societies and even the level of civilization we live in?

Why do we need information?

We need information to survive. We need information on our environment, food, living conditions, neighbors, climate, jobs, opportunities, competitors, education, etc. In the event of a total information blackout, we might fail to survive as living beings.

Quality and Quantity of Information

Information quantity is easy to understand. Let us suppose we start getting more information about all facets of our lives. Consider, if we are looking for a job, from tomorrow morning, instead of one page, there will be ten pages of job related information in the newspaper that we subscribe! If we are looking for a house, there will be ten pages of information in the newspaper! If we are looking for a bride, there will be ten pages of information on potential brides! If we are looking for a suitable teacher for our children, there will be ten pages of information on potential coaches! Please note that we simply increase the quantity of information ten times (or twenty times, hundred times, thousand times etc.)!

Understanding information quality is relatively difficult because “quality” is multi-dimensional, and it is possible to look at quality from different perspectives.

To understand information quality, lets again use the newspaper example. I am looking for a suitable house and following are my selection parameters:

*  Rent: Tk. 8,000 — 10,000 not more than six months advance.

* Accommodation Requirements: 2 bed rooms, one dining, one living, two toilets, kitchen and store room.

*   Location preferences:  Dhanmondi, Indira Road, Tejkuni para.

* Other requirements: Not ground floor, main road preferable, near any school or college and good roads. Assuming ten pages of information on

vacant houses, each information (or data) on vacant house has a non zero probability of meeting my selection criteria. Therefore, I have to read each entry, to short list the ones that seem to meet my needs. While reading each entry, whenever I encounter information which docs not meet my selection criteria, I would skip to the following entry. I can read all the entries or when I have found a certain number of potential houses, I could stop. The probability of each house in the short-list is significantly more than the original newspaper listing.

The next step in the selection process is to visit the potential location, talk to the landlord and try to get more information which may not have been provided in the newspaper. When all information are available, I would be in a position to make a selection.

Now lets put the label of quality among the three lists, the original news paper list, my initial short list, and the list after visits to the potential locations. We would say that the information quality of my first short list was better than the original newspaper list, and the quality of the final list was better than my initial list.

What could we conclude from the above example. It seems that information quality depends on “information content” of the data, or in other words the probability of success. The higher the probability of success, the better is the quality.

We all would prefer to get a list of houses which meets “only” our selection criteria, but unfortunately, the newspaper caters to the needs of many and must also satisfy the requirements of others.

If we want to increase information quality (say) ten times, we will have to forget the traditional newspaper that we sec every morning. The traditional newspaper will have to be replaced by a “personalized” newsletter or information sheet catering to my information requirements, and the information provider will have to know my needs, interest and preferences so that he can provide me only those “information” which I care about (meets my needs). Using the example used before, the service provider will no longer provide us with a ten page listing of vacant houses, rather he would know our selection criteria and sort out the houses which meets our individual requirements and provide us a list of houses meeting our needs. Using the current technology at our disposal, it may be practical for certain individuals who could afford the associated high cost, but would not be practical for the rest of us, because the associated service charge for such personalized service will be prohibitive.

Information Technology

Information technology is the collective name of a set of related technologies like computer hardware, software, telecommunications, and artificial intelligence. The difference between computer and telecommunications technology arc very rapidly disintegrating. Over the next ten years or so, they may be used interchangeably, because by then it may not be possible to distinguish between the two technologies because of their interdependence.

If we arc talking only about computers and communications, why are we calling it information technology? What is the relationship between computer & information? How can the computer influence information quality and quantity?

From our definition we have already seen that information cannot be purpose-less, but directed towards some definite goal or interest. The more (both in the context of quality & quantity) information we have, the better is the chance of survival. If this is the case, then any technology which allows us to obtain and disseminate information quickly (please note quickly is a relative term) will be valued, because information can be directly related to power.

The computer is a very powerful information tool because the computer can solve problems (some of the information may be hidden and requires problem solving to derive the information) for us, some of which would be almost impossible (or impractical) if we were left alone to do it manually. It can also store huge volumes of data at the fraction of space required by conventional media, for example, the entire Encyclopedia Britannica could be put in six compact discs occupying a space of about eight inches by one inch! It can “read” stored information at tremendous speed (measured at millionth of a second) and also transmit information at about the same rate!

The importance of telecommunications stems from its ability to bring the power of computers where we need it, to overcome the barrier of distance and space and also to form a complex communication network which could be used to deliver information and for solving intricate problems.

For eamplc, instead dof sending me my newsletter by mail, using telecommunication facilities, my service provider can send an electronic newsletter (further improving information quality), which I can view at my convenience. He can further improve on information quality by introducing voice, images, graphics and video. To achieve this, we (both me and my service provider) must be connected to an electronic network. The service provider can also receive all his data electronically. How docs my service provider comes to know about my requirements? If both of us are connected, I can send him thcrcqudirements electronically, even if my requirement changes every day or every moment.

So far we have focused our discussion on information, computer and tale-communications. We have seen what would be the impact if both information quality and quantity are improved. We also had a brief glance at the role of computer and telecommunications. Next I would like to discuss the implications of information technology.

Before discussing the implications, let us review the conventional information sources. We get information from the following sources:

*  Books

*  Newspapers and magazines

*  Radio and TV

*  From talking to each other

*  From meetings, seminars and conferences

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*  From schools, colleges & universities

*  From travelling & exploring

* From basic & applied research

We can rearrange the above sources in the following manner:

*   Printed media (books, newspaper, magazine)

*  Conventional Electronic Media (Radio & TV)

*  From each other (formal or informal)

*  Research & Development

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