20 October 2015

Structured Information beyond Shannon…

Information permeates everything: from electrochemical information exchanged in networks of neurons, to biological information stored and processed in living cells, from the information extracted from big data, to the information available on the web…to the information we process and exchange in our daily activities…etc.

On the other hand, our current understanding of information communication is still based on Claude Shannon’s seminal work in 1948 resulting in a general mathematical theory for reliable communication in the presence of noise. Traditional information theory considers the communication from the viewpoints of channels connecting two endpoints. This approach should be enhance when considering networks (even social networks, or networks of s/w processes) with massive sources which relay information in a multi-hop manner and with time-varying logical topology. That’s fully another story.

Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., wrote in “The Great Challenges for Half Century Old Computer Science”: “Shannon performed an inestimable service by giving us a definition of Information and a metric for Information as communicated from place to place. We have no theory however that gives us a metric for the Information embodied in structure. . .”

Even more today, technology acceleration (e.g., in ultra-broadband diffusion, IT performances and miniaturization, systemic softwarization, etc) is calling for enhancing this model of information, especially when considering the near advent of highly pervasive ICT fabrics with massive s/w processes which relay information up to the terminals and things. Example: it has been shown that the theoretical capacity of a multi-hop network is proportional to the square root of the network size (number of nodes). This  promises enormous capacity for ultra-dense network fabrics! A breakthrough is possible here, especially when thinking about soft-RAN.

But it’s much more than that. This reasoning, abstracted, is also applicable to derive new cognitive models, whose base is – by definition – extracting and elaborating information, new forms of social interactions (even with/between Avatars) or new way for humans to interact with autonomous machines or environments.

As an example of ongoing activities in this field, National Science Foundation has established some time ago the Science and Technology Center for Science of Information to advance science and technology through a new quantitative understanding of the representation, communication and processing of information in biological, physical, social and engineering systems. The center is located at Purdue University (Partners include: Berkeley, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UIUC, UCSD and Bryn Mawr & Howard U. ).

My take is that also for Network and Service Providers have to shift from the current “one way value proposition” where value stands mainly in the connectivity, to the "structured information value proposition", information generated through multiple interactions of humans and/or machines.