If information has been around forever, why do people say we live in the “Information Age”?

How did the way people approach information change in the past 70 years, and how did this impact society?

One of the traits that makes humans unique from other animals is our consciousness, the fact that we can remember concrete ideas, both actual memories and abstract thoughts. These brain activities are information. Another trait of humans is language, that is, the ability of one human to express those thoughts to one or more other humans in such a way that the other people now understand and could in turn communicate those same thoughts. Anthropologists believe that emergence of language hundreds of thousands of years ago is one of the key factors that led our hominid ancestors to develop prehistoric technology, and, most importantly, to pass technical and other knowledge to each other and down through the generations – this is known as Collective Learning. Then, several thousand years ago, people invented methods for recording information and/or transmitting information non-audibly – through writing. This development was both caused by and led to greater and greater social and technological complexity. Over time, a series of technological developments made writing more efficient and easier to transmit. Then, in the late 19th century, the development of electrical technology led to new ways to record, store, and transmit information. Ultimately, several decades ago, these technologies led to a further burst of progress in how we create, process, store, and communicate information – the so-called Information Revolution. This has had almost unlimited impact on modern society and is the focus of this Inquiry Unit.

This inquiry unit is brought to you by the IEEE Information Theory Society & Ray and Carmen Vargas.

Information theory enables a signal to be compressed (made smaller) and reconstructed at the other end without losing any of the message. For example, the Lempel-Ziv compression algorithm helps to enable the Internet. Information theory has moved cryptography way beyond the German enigma code to allow users to do secure transactions on the World Wide Web. The Web contains every sort of information that has ever been produced by humans – weather reports, poetry, financial records, videos, etc. The analogy between a web page and the page of a book is very inexact. However, it is interesting to note that Google estimates that there are about 6 billion web pages. If an average book is 600 pages, this would mean there is the equivalent of 10 million books online.

Information can be thought of as any fact or idea known by a person. Animals can communicate limited information to one another, such as when a bird’s call warns another bird of danger. The idea that one person could fully learn what another person was actually thinking was one of the major factors that led to humans dominating the globe.


Supporting Questions

This Unit is Brought to You by the IEEE Information Theory Society & Ray and Carmen Vargas