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Exploring the Philosophy of Information

By Skipper Seabold

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AU’s Info-Metrics Institute continues its workshop series dedicated to the study of information and its most efficient use, focusing on the philosophy and value of information.

The workshop takes place April 26.

“Big Data” has recently become a popular business analytics tool, but the ongoing inquiry into the nature of information has been a part of the human endeavor since antiquity. The subject crosses the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, physics, linguistics, computer science and informatics, and economics. It also interests practitioners in communication, encryption, and statistics.

The philosophy of information has emerged as a research program in its own right, standing at the confluence of these many disciplines, and a recurrent theme in the Info-Metrics Institute workshops and conferences.

Its appeal is understandable. We live in the Information Age, and for the first time in history the production, processing and management, and use of information are central to our quality of life. Considered in these terms, the study of information is both a worthwhile academic and a practical pursuit.

The day will begin with a topic that concerns us all. An abundance of information is available about anything and anyone. But how much is too much? What are the ethical implications of “big data,” and how do we weigh concerns of privacy versus the value of the information?

Presenters and discussants will then focus on a question at the heart of much of the philosophy of information—what is the fundamental nature of information? There are many usages of the term information, from the colloquial to the mathematical, philosophical, and scientific. What ties these concepts together?

What is the value of information? If we are to properly assess the privacy costs of the Information Age, we must determine the answer to this question. To do that we must ask to whom does information have value or from whom is it given? Is the value of information intrinsic to information itself, or is it valuable only when considered by an observer? These questions will occupy much of the remaining discussion.

This notion of the observer and the suggestion of agency—both in conveying and receiving information—lead to two related avenues of inquiry. First, as conveyors of information, how might we best communicate information, visually or otherwise? Second, as observers of information, how we do we, or should we, use the information we receive? How do we update our beliefs in the face of new information? How do we best synthesize the varied sources to make a decision, and what do we do when presented with contradictory information?

This workshop will interest not only the philosophically minded across disciplines but also practitioners who are wondering how best to use information to convey an idea or test a theory. Talks and discussions will be followed by a round-table discussion and a reception.

You can find conference information and registration details here.