Slaying Dragons #17 – The Oldest Technology

We tend to think of digital recording and information technology as something modern, whereas John Watkinson argues that nothing could be further from the truth.

In order to see my point, we need to go back in two ways; back to the foundations of information theory and back before rock and roll, to the beginning of time.

We all talk about information, but what is it? Essentially information is an arcane form of knowledge. Specifically it must be fresh knowledge, of which the destination was not previously aware, and which must accordingly reduce uncertainty at the destination. If the message does not reduce uncertainty at the destination, because the contents of the message are already known, the message is redundant. One sometimes reads that redundancy is the opposite of information, but that is untrue. No amount of redundancy can oppose information. It might be better to say redundancy is a lack of information.

Those requirements place some serious constraints on information; specifically that the destination must display awareness and uncertainty. This requires the destination of information to be sentient in some way. Information cannot be sent to a rock. Prior to modern technology, only a life form could display sentience. That sentience was part of a survival mechanism that would allow the life form to avoid threats, find food and a mate.

The unit of information is the bit, which is the amount of information that resolves the simplest possible uncertainty, whether something is true or false.

The bit is a peculiar thing because it is not …


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