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The information revolution

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Previous: Brief History of the Productive Forces Continued

The period after World War Two we can characterize as "Scientific Technical Revolution" (STR). Its essence is that science (or rather knowledge in general) becomes a leading factor in production (as opposed to "land" during agricultural revolution, or industrial "factors of production", such as iron, coal, oil, labor-power, etc., during the Industrial revolution). Hence, the term "knowledge economy" is applied to modern economy.

The main aspect of the STR today is the information revolution. According to RAND report from 2003, "The information revolution is not the only technology-driven revolution under way in the world today, merely the most advanced. Advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology, and their synergies with IT, should also change the world greatly over the course of the 21st century".

This presentation on the information revolution we'd like to divide up into a number of sections:

I. A question  "what is information?"

II. Brief history of information technologies (IT).

III. Tendencies in development of computers.

IV. The Internet.

V. Social consequences of the IT revolution.

VI. The Information Revolution in the ex-USSR.

I. What is "information"?

The origin of the word is from Latin "informatio", meaning "explanation", "clarification", "exposition". The product of explaining something, clarifying, or making an exposition of something was called "an information".

"According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest historical meaning of the word information in English was the act of informing, or giving form or shape to the mind, as in education, instruction, or training. A quote from 1387: "Five books come down from heaven for information of mankind." It was also used for an item of training, e.g. a particular instruction. "Melibee had heard the great skills and reasons of Dame Prudence, and her wise informations and techniques." (1386)" (Wikipedia)

So, grammatical definition of information is that which gives shape to mind

In 1930's, a French physicist Pierre Brillouin defined information as "negative entropy". Entropy means "a measure of disorder that exists in a system". Hence, "negative entropy" would mean a measure of order in a system, i.e. how well it is organized, how well it is structured. For example, if a course (book, site) is informative, it removes a great deal of disorder from the minds of its users.

So, a physical definition of information is a measure of how well a system is organized

Information
In 1940's, an American electrical engineer Claude Shannon presented a theory of information summarized by the picture on the right. Here we see a source of information transmiting some signal via a trasmitter. For example, this can a star transmitting a ray of light. Then, this ray of light travels through space, where it meets different obstacles and sources of interference, such as massive stars, gaseous formations, etc. These are "sources of noise". Then, the ray of light is received via some receiver, for example a telescope. Finally, it arrives at our eye, which is its "destination". 

So, it appears that Shannon's understanding of information is a signal that travels from "information source" towards some "destination", meeting several kinds of interferences on its way

In 1960's, a Soviet academician Glushkov defined information as: 1) the degree to which matter-energy is distributed unevenly in the time/space continuum, or, how matter-energy is distributed in time-space continuum; 2) the measure of change which accompanies all processes in the world, or, how much something has changed, what kind of quantitative or qualitative changes have taken place.

So, information is a measure of change, or development, of a system

In 1975, a Soviet philosophical dictionary writes that information is a measure of organization of systems; it is a negation of uncertainty, a reflection of the processes in nature.

Microsoft "Encarta '97"encyclopedia defines information as: 1) "a collection of facts or data"; 2) "a non-accidental signal used as input into a communications system".

In 2000, Vadim Gorbachev, of Ufa State University in Russia, a participant in the newsgroup "SU.PHILOSOPHY", defines information as "an aggregate of material". "The binding of energy (i.e. formation of material structures) is possible precisely because energy is 'modeled' by information". He uses image of DNA modeling the structure of a cell to explain how information models matter and energy.

So, information here is that which models, or shapes, matter/energy complex

In 2003, a Russian encyclopedia "Cyril & Methodius" defines information as data that has been initially transmitted between people, either orally or through various signals. Since the second half of XX century, information has been transmitted between machines and people, and between machines. Information also includes signals which are exchanged between organisms, such as plants and animals.

So, information is data which is transmitted between various entities

"Encarta 2004 Dictionary" defines information as "computer data that has been organized and presented in a systematic fashion to clarify the underlying meaning". Here, information is data organized to explain the meaning

On the Internet, at http://xray.bmc.uu.se/~kenth/bioinfo/glossary.html, we find following definition for information: "A measure of how surprising something is". This makes a lot of sense, for if something is informative, a person says "I find it surprising".

I understand "information" is a raw material of knowledge. When information is processed, it is "enriched" (like some atoms) and produces knowledge. One form of knowledge may serve as a "raw material" for still another inquiry, and thus presents itself as "information". 

II. Brief history of information technologies

The nature of the media used to process information influences what type of people handle information, hence what information is and what effect it has on society.

According to "A History of Information Technology and Systems", by  by Jeremy G. Butler, University of Arizona, 1997, there are four basic periods in IT. These are: 1) Premechanical, 2) Mechanical, 3) Electromechanical, 4) Electronic.  

1) The Premechanical Age: from the Stone Age to 1450 A.D.

Homer British Museum

Homer from the British Museum

Initially, information was spread by the word of mouth. The oral tradition gives rise to such poems as "Iliad" and "Odyssey" (the picture on the right: Homer).

Cave paint

A cave painting

Along the side of the oral tradition, cave painting developed. On the left, we see a cave painting by San people, on the territory of modern day Zimbabwe.

We note that the earlier forms of information technologies do not die, but continue to live, however, relegated to secondary place. The same applies to any phenomena in development.

Picture writing

Picture writing

From primitive paintings developed pictorial writing. The most famous example is Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Simplification of picture writing has led to the invention of letters. For example, the modern letter "M" was initially a picture of a wave, meaning "the sea". In French, the sea is "mere"; in Russian "море". .

Sumerian

Sumerian writing

One of the earliest attempts at developing letter writing was by the people of Sumeria around 4000 years ago. They wrote in stone and clay tablets in a system called "cuneiform" (on the left).

Joshua Roll

A scroll from Byzantine empire, X century

After stones, people used papyrus scrolls. This media developed in ancient Egypt and later spread throughout the world.The most famous collection of scrolls was in the library of Alexandria, Egypt, III - I centuries B.C.

Quaran

Quaran written on a parchment

A system of writing on parchment was invented in a town of Pergamum, which is in modern day Turkey. This was a system of writing on animal skin. Several sheets of "Pergamum" were then first bound together to form a prototype of a modern book. In the photo, we see a Qur'an, dating VIII-IX century, written on parchment. This media is longer-lasting than papyrus.

2) The Mechanical Age: 1450 - 1840

Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468) invented the printing press in Europe. Originally, he was trained as goldsmith. "Encarta 2004"

Gutenberg-press

A replica of the Gutenberg press

writes: "in about 1450, Gutenberg formed another partnership, with the German merchant and moneylender Johann Fust, and set up a press on which he probably started printing the large Latin Bible associated with his name". Thus, book printing was due to a partnership of an artisan and a capitalist. Similar partnership we notice in another key invention of the Industrial revolution, the steam engine. James Watt was a mechanic, and Bolton was a capitalist.

3) The Electromechanical Age: 1840 - 1946

The discovery of ways to harness electricity was the key advance made during this period.

Telephone2

Early models of the telephone include Edison’s 1879 wall-mounted phone (left), the candlestick design common in the 1920s and 1930s (bottom), and a 1937 “cradle” telephone

The telephone was invented in 1876, in the United States, by Alexander Bell.

According to Kathleen Guinee, writing in "A Journey through the History of Information Technology": "Through the first half of the century, having a private telephone line run into your house was expensive and considered a luxury. Instead of a private line, many people had what are called "party lines." A party-line was a phone line shared by three different households. An extension would be placed in each house, and if another person who shared the line was on the phone when you wanted to make a call, you would have to ask them to please get off. As the century continued into its second half, telephone technology became less expensive for the consumer".

From a conversation with an telephone technician, who installed telephone jacks in my new apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2006, having a telephone line run into his house, 10 years ago, i.e. in 1996, cost him $500 in bribes. Today, one gets a telephone officially, through a number of companies, at a price of 240 Ukrainian hrivnas (less than $50). However, with the advance of mobile phones, one no longer needs land lines, and hence I canceled my contract for a land line service around the year 2013.  

Popov

Alexander Popov demonstrating his radio in 1895

After the telephone, the next step in development of information technologies was a radio. According to Western sources, such as Encyclopedia "Encarta", Italian inventor Marconi, from a family of a rich landowner, experimenting on his own against the will of his father, invented the radio (or "wireless telegraphy", as it was called then). In 1896 he transmitted a signal at a distance of 1.6 km. Later, improvements followed, with most famous case being the "Titanic" using radio signals to transmit "SOS", in 1912. However, according to Russian sources, such as Encyclopedia "Cyril and Methodius", 2003, radio was invented by A.S. Popov; in 1895, he transmitted signals at a distance of 600 m.

Tv2

Television sets from 1950's

The next step was television. After numerous experiments in 1920's and 1930's, public broadcasting of TV started in London in 1936, and in the United States in 1939. However, this was interrupted by World War II. The TV really hit the public in 1950's. In 1955, 65% of American homes have had a TV.

4) The Electronic Age: 1946 - Present

ENIAC

ENIAC, 1946

Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was assembled in 1946. It used vacuum tubes (not mechanical devices) to do its calculations. Hence, this is the first electronic computer. People behind it were: mathematician John von Newmann, physicist John Mauchly, electrical engineer J. Prosper Eckert, as well as the U.S. government, the Defense Department in particular. 

Apple 1

Apple 1, 1976

Personal computers date to 1976, when Apple I appeared. The people behind it were Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs. Apple II was released to public in 1977. It initially sold for $1,195 (without a monitor) and had 16k RAM.

IBM-PC

IBM-PC in a German school in 1980's

In 1981 IBM PC appeared. Apple and IBM computers started to compete with each other, with Apple being more aesthetic, while the IBM being a market monopolist, and hence having more useful applications written for it.  

III. Tendencies in development of computers

One tendency of modern computers has been a constant increase in speed of computing. On February 25, 2002, we read: "International Business Machines Corp. said … it has built the world's fastest microchip, which will enable communications systems to run far more quickly. The integrated circuit runs at more than 110 GigaHertz, or 110 billion cycles per second, meaning it will be able to process more than 2.8 million pages of text per second." A supercomputer, announced in May 2004, will be funded by a grant of $50 million and built in Oak Ridge National Lab in USA. The speed of the computer will be 50 trillion calculations per second. "Ultra-fast supercomputers are considered essential in today's scientific research, from analyzing climate change and developing fusion energy to understanding cellular structures, Energy Department officials said."

Second tendency of modern computers is a constant increase in the amounts of information stored. My first notebook computer, "Packard Bell", purchased in 1995, had an HDD of 400 MB. A Toshiba Satellite, purchased in 2000, had an HDD of 2 GB. A Toshiba Satellite purchased in 2003 has an HDD of 60 GB. The same model in 2004 featured 120 GB of storage. Toshiba Satellite purchased in 2013 had 700 GB of storage. 

A third tendency is development of multi-functionality. For example, a modern laser printer is also a scanner and a Xerox. This tendency means that computers develop towards being robots, towards acting artificial intelligence

A fourth tendency is a decrease in size and hence an increase in mobility. The users switch from desktop models to notebooks. Palm computers have appeared. Palm computers are a fusion of computers, cell phones and video-camera. However, the keyboard of palm computers is not very comfortable for text processing. Hence, computers of "palm" size will require voice input of information. The screen of modern "palm" computers is too small. An answer to this problem may be a flexible electronic screen. Another possibility is combining "palm" with multimedia projector, producing 3-D images. For this, we will need to improve our battery performance, perhaps use different materials for storing electricity. Finally, the camera in palm does not produce very good images. Perhaps, we can use biotechnology to produce a device small enough to fit into a "palm", but with the quality of an eye.

If we're to follow the methodology proposed above, which is that of dividing the information technologies according to the type of the media used as carriers of information (pre-mechanical, mechanical, electromechanical, and electronic eras), and we remember that the scientific technological revolution is tending towards nanotechnology, then we suppose that the future of information technologies will be in molecular and atomic realm. For example, Seymour Cray, an inventor of supercomputers in 1970's and 80's, said in an interview on May 9, 1995:

"My view is that as machines become faster and faster they have to become smaller and smaller because we have basic communications limitations which are speed of light communication. If I extrapolate as I did at this workshop, the sizes that we have now which are in the micrometer range, to what we should be doing to accomplish the goals twenty years hence, we have to be in the nanometer dimensions. Well nanometer devices are the kinds of things that proteins are made of. They are molecular sized devices and if one let's one's mind run on the subject and one thinks "well, we're going to build computers in this time frame that are molecular in size", then here we are suddenly face with the same dimensions and structures as we have in biological molecules".

The future computer will not be a "mechanism" but an organism. It will possess artificial intelligence, enabling it, for example, to understand live speech. It will possess "an eye", for example, enabling it to "see" and take pictures. It will have some means enabling it to move about, for example artificial legs, and it will possess "arms", enabling it to perform a multiplicity of tasks, from cleaning a dwelling to loving us. And of course it will have a variety of means of communication, both with humans and other robots, such as Wi-Fi. 

IV. The Internet

Information on computers is shared via the Internet. "This first network was called Arpanet. It was constructed in 1969 by building links between four different computer sites: UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UC-Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City" (Kathleen Guinee, "A Journey through the History of Information Technology", 1995).Organizationally, Internet was promoted by the U.S. government, specifically Department of Defense, and not private capitalists, as in the case of key inventions of the Industrial revolution.

Tim Berners Lee small

Timothy Berners-Lee

The person who transformed the Internet from a scholarly network into the World Wide Web of today (WWW) is Timothy Berners-Lee. It's curious to observe his background, as we strive to understand who the modern revolutionaries are: "I am the son of mathematicians. My mother and father were part of the team that programmed the world's first commercial, stored-program computer, the Manchester University 'Mark I,' which was sold by Ferranti Ltd. in the early 1950s".

It's curious to observe how the WWW was invented. Timothy Berners-Lee speaks: "Inventing the World Wide Web involved my growing realization that there was a power in arranging ideas in an unconstrained, weblike way. And that awareness came to me through precisely that kind of process. The Web arose as the answer to an open challenge, through the swirling together of influences, ideas, and realizations from many sides, until, by the wondrous offices of the human mind, a new concept jelled. It was a process of accretion, not the linear solving of one well-defined problem after another".

The WWW was designed by Timothy Berners-Lee (TBL) with the goal of sharing knowledge, not selling it: "The idea was that everybody would be putting their ideas in, as well as taking them out". Or: "the Web initially was designed to be a space within which people could work on an expression of their shared knowledge".

The idea of knowledge that TBL has is not that of passive absorption of David Hume, the "empiricism", but rather that of "intercreativity", or interaction between people with the purpose of creating something new. TBL says: "I wanted the Web to be what I call an interactive space where everybody can edit. And I started saying 'interactive', and then I read in the media that the Web was great because it was 'interactive', meaning you could click. This was not what I meant by interactivity, so I started calling it 'intercreativity' ... What I mean is being creative with others. A few fundamental rules make this possible. As you can read, so you should be able (given the authority) to write. If you can see pictures on your screen, why can't you take pictures and very easily and intuitively put them up there?"

"Intercreativity" is the key to the present and the future of Internet, and learning in general. The most amazing sites and "intercreative", or created by the community of users. These include the Wikipedia and YouTube. Learning in general, if it is to be real learning, i.e. something new both for the teachers and the students, should be intercreative, where both the teachers and the students constantly create something new for each other. Intercreativity is implicitly present in computer games, but it can and should be present in more serious learning. 

***

Internet came into our homes in late 1990's.  "One survey found that there were 61 million Internet users worldwide at the end of 1996, 148 million at the end of 1998, and an estimated 320 million in 2000." In 2006, there were over 1 billion Internet users world-wide. The first place among Internet users is occupied by the U.S., with 59% of population, or 175 million people, using the Net. The second place is occupied by the European Union, with 50% of its population, or 233 million people, using the Net. In China, almost 10% of population use the net, or 111 million people. The Latin American countries have the fastest growing "Internet population". The number of users has increased by 70%, vis-a-vis 2005, and made up 70 million people. There are 315 million Internet users in Asia-Pacific region. In Ukraine, a republic of the former USSR, there were 3 million people using the Internet (the general population being around 43 million people), i.e. less than 10% of people were using the Net. More than half of these were in Kiev, the capital.

So, one tendency is growing Internet population world-wide

The Internet has a tendency to go faster, from "dial-up" connection to a "broadband" connection. "The New York Times", in 2004, wrote: "These days, when the Internet teems with complex Web sites and oversized files for downloading, broadband is no longer a luxury: it's a necessity. The need to get high-speed access to rural areas is analogous to the rural electrification project that began to transform America in the late 1930's."

Internet has a tendency to go wireless, e.g. via Wi-Fi and satellites. In 2002, in the U.S., there were 10 million users of wireless Internet. Most of the wireless internet users are people between 18 and 34. Thus, we can expect the Internet to be accessible in any part of the globe, including the oceans, the deserts, the forests, and the outer space.

The next project of Tim Berners-Lee is "Semantic Web". Wikepedia defines it thus: "The Semantic Web is a project that intends to create a universal medium for information exchange by giving meaning (semantics), in a manner understandable by machines, to the content of documents on the Web". Timothy Berners-Lee is heading the Semantic Web project. He defines it thus: "The goal of the Semantic Web initiative is to create a universal medium for the exchange of data where data can be shared and processed by automated tools as well as by people". The goal is to make machines understand the data with which they are working, so the data can be processed automatically.

However, there is a problem in making "meaning" understood by machines. For example, one trend in computer programs and Internet content has been of making it visual, and multimedia in general. For example, we use "icons" instead of commands.  A picture or a song may be worth a thousand words.

Hence, just like with computers, Internet tends towards development of Artificial Intelligence, but on a global scale

Next: the information revolution continued

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