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!E-PUB ♫ The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood ⚖ James Gleick, The Author Of The Best Sellers Chaos And Genius, Now Brings Us A Work Just As Astonishing And Masterly A Revelatory Chronicle And Meditation That Shows How Information Has Become The Modern Era S Defining Quality The Blood, The Fuel, The Vital Principle Of Our World The Story Of Information Begins In A Time Profoundly Unlike Our Own, When Every Thought And Utterance Vanishes As Soon As It Is Born From The Invention Of Scripts And Alphabets To The Long Misunderstood Talking Drums Of Africa, Gleick Tells The Story Of Information Technologies That Changed The Very Nature Of Human Consciousness He Provides Portraits Of The Key Figures Contributing To The Inexorable Development Of Our Modern Understanding Of Information Charles Babbage, The Idiosyncratic Inventor Of The First Great Mechanical Computer Ada Byron, The Brilliant And Doomed Daughter Of The Poet, Who Became The First True Programmer Pivotal Figures Like Samuel Morse And Alan Turing And Claude Shannon, The Creator Of Information Theory Itself And Then The Information Age Arrives Citizens Of This World Become Experts Willy Nilly Aficionados Of Bits And Bytes And We Sometimes Feel We Are Drowning, Swept By A Deluge Of Signs And Signals, News And Images, Blogs And Tweets The Information Is The Story Of How We Got Here And Where We Are Heading
Only half way through this book but it s one of the best I ve read in a very long time The chapter on Babbage and Lovelace filled me with rapture and awe, and a little bit of jealousy, peeking in on these great discoveries and the heady conversations and frequent advances and discoveries What must it have been like to work at that level, to discover those things, to be so far ahead of your time Incredible writing, so well researched, I just love this book And as a bonus, highly applicable to my day job I think this is perhaps as good an introduction to information theory as you are likely to read Lucid, clear and quite nicely paced, it covers a wealth of material and it does so with beautiful ease This guy really is a wonderful science writer His Chaos and Newton were both stunning books I got about half of the way through Genius, but then got distracted and never quite made it back but I ve always meant to All the same, this one shines and shines.Perhaps the best chapter was the one on randomness Randomness is such a tricky concept, but oddly, not something we generally really think about Just how do you go about proving that a series of numbers is, in fact, random The problem is that we humans are hopeless at spotting randomness This is partly because we are such excellent pattern picking machines that we even spot patterns when there are none And then we also tend to think there must be a pattern if there is repetition, but random sequences have odd repetitions too All this means we tend to think things that aren t random are in fact random and vice versa.The definition of randomness is that there is, in a string of numbers, a one in ten chance that you will be able to pick the next number in the sequence in a random series you will have a one in ten chance if you can do better than this chance at picking the number then you must have an algorithm to help you pick the next number and that means the next number can t be random.His discussion of Turing, not just his test but also his machine and incalculable numbers, is highly readable and clear His discussion of G del is somewhat less clear, but than I m yet to have read a perfectly clear description of the incompleteness theorem which might say about me than it does about the descriptions I have read, who knows This one is still good, even if it remains over my head However, there is a wonderful discussion of the relationship between information and entropy and why entropy is an important concept for people to understand, as good an explanation as any I have ever read.The early parts of the book are a joy The stuff about the barbed wire telegraphs is particularly fascinating As was his explanation of why multistorey buildings needed the telephone to be invented as much as they needed lifts.I was less impressed by the discussion of memes, but mostly because I don t find this nearly as useful a metaphor as others do and worry when ideas that are clearly meant to be provocative end up being taken much seriously than they warrant Selfish genes and selfish memes, with their characteristic inversion of common sense, tend to become Black s self plex and the end of human freewill and identity and therefore take a joke all a little too far.The discussion at the very start of this book about African talking drums is virtually worth the cover price alone I had never realised that these communicate tonally and that to make them work the drummer must add lots of redundancy to the message, almost like a convention of sub phrases This was a wonderful description of why redundancy is necessary to messages and said interesting things about Western racism Westerners simply could not believe these drums actually could send messages or that they were not being sent by a kind of Morse Code.This book really is a pleasure and on a fascinating topic that is deftly handled by one of the best science writers alive. The amount of information pun acknowledged, but not intended that James Gleick was able to contain in the book is mind boggling Claude Shannon could probably tell you what the physical cost of the logical work my mind did while reading it was, but I, alas, cannot.I m sure that for those who are well versed in information theory, some of his omissions were glaring and seemingly arbitrary, but there is nothing wrong with a book that leaves you wanting and feeling sufficiently motivated to go out and find it The Information , with all that it contains, is a likely candidate for the list of non fiction books I loved, took copious notes on while reading, and would recommend, but fail to review because there is just so much to be said However, it s Ada Lovelace Day , and without Gleick I would have no clue as to who she was and she was awesome My lack of time and in depth knowledge of Lovelace suggest that my attempt to describe her right now would be inadequate, so I ll just recommend a nice New Yorker article Ada Lovelace, The First Tech Visionary and or any of the ALD features that are bound to grace the interwebs today. The history of information theory is a history of increasing abstraction To the point where the meaning of information becomes irrelevant To the point where the universe itself can be seen as a giant computer, and each of our choices, thoughts, movements become like states in the machine I loved reading about the African drummers who communicated over long distances via a tonal drum language with built in redundancy I loved reading about Babbage and his calculating machine, and to think about it as a kind of steam punk calculator fantasy world of the future I loved reading about people decrying the telegraph and the telephone as technologies that will ruin humanity And to read about the shortening of telegraph messages to save time and money, with phrases like wyegfef which stands for will you exchange gold for eastern funds which is interesting because here we are in 2012 coming full circle, a form of regression maybe, by using codes like ROFLOL and BRB in our chatboxes and cellphones And also that the telegraph reminds me a bit of twitter in its shortness I didn t love reading about Godel and Turing and Shannon, but only because I ve read so much about them already in other books just like this one, but it was still interesting enough I liked reading about genes and the gene code ok, but I really loved reading about quantum computers because I knew next to nothing about them Something I never thought about before is how a message sent using a quantum computer cannot be intercepted or wiretapped because of Heisenberg s principle which says that you can t look at a quantum particle without effecting it, so in effect the intercepter cannot go undetected This blew my mind I loved reading the philosophical chapters about how we have too much information for us to ever process, and how we must now deal with it I loved reading about the library of babel and borges of course, how could I not I loved thinking about how we have too much information and how everything is documented It did not occur to Sophocle s audiences that it would be sad for his plays to be lost they enjoyed the show I thought about that and I thought about how every performance, ceremony, or event that I ve been to in the last year or so has been recorded on video and probably up on YouTube already and how or whether that took away from the experience, whether knowing something will be archived later makes you pay attention less now, or is it a form of insurance, a kind of just in case, which then made me wonder how many times I or anyone will ever go and watch those videos again I thought about the last chapters and how Google and other search engines are our only means of not being completely lost in meaningless data and then I thought about how much power the role of a search engine is, to make sense of the information is also to hold all the power, to control the information, to control what information people see or don t see I m looking forward to the sequel. I have a soft spot for mathematics The complicated and obtuse it gets, the I like it It is probably best I didn t figure this out earlier in life, because I might have pursued it and gone crazy So I enjoy reading about it from time to time.In The Information, Gleick speaks to the interplay between mathematical progress with science, culture, information theory, and really the development of society It is an incredible overview of topics ranging from logic to communication to memes It is DENSE I spread my reading over a few weeks, a chapter here, a chapter there When the information started going over my head, I gleefully skimmed it until I could sink back in The formulas meant very little but then he put musical fragments into it with no explanation, and at least I understood those.The chapter that first captured me detailed the history of the OED I loved the logic chapter, talking about Boole and his contributions, someone very important to library theory and I never really knew anything about where all of that came from It was the last chapter, as well as the epilogue, where Gleick steps beyond his thorough research to offer a few opinions on the direction of information and information overload, that I think the book really shines, or at least, where it was most interesting useful to me I don t know enough to speak to the accuracy of this book, but I feel like I learned a lot, as well as adding a bunch of other books to read to my list that he cites I will also be ordering it for the academic library where I work, and using it in a presentation I m giving in February Win win win It sometimes seems as if curbing entropy is our quixotic purpose in this universe We make our own storehouses The persistence of information, the difficulty of forgetting, so characteristic of our time, accretes confusion When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive For the same reason, mechanisms of search engines, in cyberspace find needles in haystacks By now we ve learned that it is not enough for information to exist Too much information, and so much of it lost An unindexed Internet site is in the same limbo as a misshelved library book This is why the successful and powerful business enterprises of the information economy are built on filtering and searching Infinite possibility is good, not bad Meaningless disorder is to be challenged, not feared Language maps a boundless world of objects and sensations and combinations onto a finite space The world changes, always mixing the static with the ephemeral Everyone s language is different We can be overwhelmed or we can be emboldened We want the Demon, you see, wrote Stanislaw Lem, to extract from the dance of atoms only information that is genuine, like mathematical theorems, fashion magazines, blueprints, historical chronicles, or a recipe for ion crumpets, or how to clean and iron a suit of asbestos, and poetry too, and scientific advice, and almanacs, and calendars, and secret documents, and everything that ever appeared in any newspaper in the Universe, and telephone books of the future As ever, it is the choice that informs us Selecting the genuine takes work then forgetting takes even work The library will endure it is the universe We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and of the future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information. While nothing in this book is really new, Gleick has managed to pull together a fascinating, comprehensive review of the subject of information The book does an excellent job unifying a vast subject area I appreciate the book s emphasis on the contributions of Claude Shannon to the field of information theory Also, it is eye opening to be reminded, that an animal s body is simply the vehicle that a gene i.e., information uses to self replicate And it was fun to learn about earlier methods of long distance communications, like jungle drums and the semaphore system used in France I would recommend this book to anybody who uses his brain to store information. Very interesting and complex history of information theory, from drumbeats and cuneiform to the Internet Not afraid to venture into the technical and detailed aspects of history, which I admire. The Information has a lot going for it And it has a lot going against it.For starters, Gleick keeps the read enjoyable with his strong prose style The author controls the pace and tone of his writing to carry readers along almost cinematically Indeed, many passages read like the voice over of a History Channel program, while simultaneously conjuring for readers the images that would play under the voice over It is a strong effect, engrossing and enjoyable.The other big strong point of The Information is how wide ranging yet unified its topic is Gleick has, rather conspicuously, rounded up a huge catalog of sources and influences and subjects I believe if a person is really going to like this book, it will be as an exuberant, unregimented romp through the jungle that is information The book is ambitious, and looks at the world with the wide eyes of delight not the furrowed brow of calculation.And given this combination of the book s ambition and approach, from The Information emerge some weaknesses The book s treatment of its various subjects is very uneven Gleick does a good job of impressing on readers how big a shift in mindset literacy generates He gives an engrossing treatment of talking drums, and he gives an equally engrossing treatment of Charles Babbage and Ada Byron These subjects together form an informal first half of the book, and succeed in prompting readers to think through the genesis of information as something first represented and eventually manipulated in tangible forms like scripts, tones, and gears.Since we today generally take for granted a certain relationship between information, our minds, and our instruments, it is a major accomplishment that Gleick gets us to note that we haven t always lived this way and to think through how we got this way.But after Gleick accomplishes this in the first portion of the book, he falters His treatment of most subsequent topics is often not cogent For example, in his treatment of thermodynamic information, he equivocates on what Maxwell s Demon is or isn t, and whether it exists or doesn t Gleick ends up noting that the demon could not operate, but then he keeps referring to it as if it really does operate, a presumably rhetorical move that is pointless and incoherent.Later on, Gleick gives a treatment of both genes and memes that is strangely uninspired The fact that the book s wide scope requires the treatment of any particular topic to be fairly shallow does not combine well with the fact that almost everyone these days has a passing familiarity with both genes and memes Gleick says no than the educated layperson already knows In a book on The Information, it seems genes and memes must be discussed as a matter of course but these sections don t add value to the book.Moreover, the section on genes was even deeply flawed Gleick attributes to Watson and Crick the elucidation of the information content of DNA He thereby conflates the chemical structure of the DNA molecule with the information structure of the DNA code This is analogous to saying that the first person who figured out that a charred stick could be used to make marks on slate was the person who figured out writing Or, it is analogous to saying that the information content of enigma encrypted Wehrmacht transmissions was retrieved not by the codebreakers at Bletchly Park but by the radio operators who determined what radio frequency the messages were broadcast on This is a rather profound mistake, considering the subject of The Information.And this major mistake cropped up again and again, in different contexts Despite his attentiveness to the father of information theory, Shannon, Gleick never got around to explicitly saying what makes something information, nor did Gleick implicitly follow any solid definition of information This becomes problematic toward the end, where Gleick wants to unify everything under quantum information it from bit with the entire universe as a collection of physical informational states That is an interesting concept, but it actually has little to do with information as treated in the rest of the book alphabets, calculators, cyphers, telegraphs, genes, Wikipedia articles In all these contexts, something is informational when one physical object stands in for something else say, AAG for lysine, or dot dot dot for s Gleick seems aware of this special relationship that defines information per Shannon , but never pursues it and eventually abandons it The sense of information he ends with is simply the notion that at certain levels, such as the level of quarks, the objects of study are indistinguishable from the formalisms by which we know them That s a deep topic, but it isn t really pursued for its own sake it is deployed as a rhetorical way to make everything informational even though it s only nominally related to the informational topics discussed in the rest of the book.I found it intriguing that, in the final chapter, Gleick mentions in passing a perfect 1 1 map of everything as suggested by Lewis Carroll Carroll was quite witty and this map is, of course, absurd Its absurdity is precisely the problem that arises when Gleick conflates his two kinds of information A perfect 1 1 map of everything A would not be a map and B would not be the thing itself.So there were some deep conceptual problems plaguing The Information Relatedly, the book lacked form It was sprawling, and attempts at unification aside from leading Gleick to embrace absurdities and forget what information even is fell flat As Gleick reminds us at the end in his excellent prose, there is a lot of information on the internet, and a lot of particles in the universe not exactly a parting thought that leaves readers pondering.Finally, the references are in such bad shape that they warrant comment None of the main body text has citations of any kind Multiple times, I looked up authors who were quoted and found no entries in the bibliography There is a section of notes , which appears to be a collection of endnotes containing citations and comments, presumably for the many unsourced quotations in the book This section is puzzling, because the text does not actually refer to any notes I infer that the numerals which signal there is an endnote pertaining to some point in the text have all been removed from the book, but the notes themselves retained Presumably the in text designation of notes was removed to make the text appear readable rather than intimidating A rigorously sourced book suggests to readers it is meant to be taken seriously apparently it was decided that that would send the wrong impression for this book Bottom line The Information was fun and interesting The first half was especially strong, even illuminating But there were also serious conceptual and formal problems that prevented the book s content from matching the potential of such an ambitious topic The book is much likely to reward casual reading than serious or repeated reading. 20th book for 2018.In my doctorate I read and enjoyed many of the original 1950s papers applying information theory to psychology I read Gleick s Chaos Making a New Science many years ago and loved it, so his history of information was a natural second book for me to read Although his writing style is good, the book was quite disappointing The book simply covers too many different topics with little to connect them African drums the telegraph encyclopedias and dictionaries codes Babbage and Lady Lovelace information theory quantum computing Wikipedia, encyclopedias again While the chapters are interesting in their own way, nothing really adds up into something coherent.Not a terrible book, but it could have been so much better with a tighter focus 3 stars.