Information and Experience (1)

Originally computers were designed to perform computation on data.  Obviously, that was the reason to call them computers.  As their evolution continued, they became more information devices than computing machines.  Most of us use computers more for communicating information, accessing information sources, and searching for appropriate information sources.  The last few years are a clear indication that computing is entering the next phase.  After dealing with data and information, slowly computers are becoming devices that will increasingly deal with experiences.

Information and experiences are important part of human life.  Experience is the basis of our understanding of objects, thoughts, and emotions through the senses.  We experience the world using our five senses: vision, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  All our concepts are essentially formed using these senses, through our experiences.  Abstraction allows us to communicate and share our experiences.  Abstractions are the mechanisms that we learn to assign symbols or names to our experiences.  The mechanism of abstraction is essential for learning and the mechanism of assigning specific symbols to our experiences is facilitated by human languages.  In fact, languages evolved to standardize symbols and this standardization resulted in enhancing communication among people.  Next development was the idea of building hierarchical and complex structures of abstractions to build complex concepts related to the experiences that we gain through our senses.  This resulted not only in communicating our immediate experiences bet also relating our experiences to other past experiences and experiences of others.  This resulted in starting of building the knowledge base in the society.  The great advantages offered by these abstractions, symbolization, and building of symbolic structures resulted in the virtuous cycle that continues until today and will continue as long as society of intelligent beings exist.  These knowledge structures later became the basis of storage and distribution of knowledge and are still the prominent mechanisms used for communication, storage, and distribution of knowledge using language.

Information and experience are closely related to each other.  As humans, we experience the world.  Events and objects in the world are first experienced using our senses and then are abstracted for communication, storage, and for relating those to other experiences using knowledge structures build in our head as well as build by the society based on societal experience.  Obviously, the societal experience starts with individual experiences, but is the assimilation of all such individual experiences and further abstractions of those.

When we get any information, we try to make that information concrete by using that information and “visualizing” that information based on our own experiences that resulted in similar abstractions.  It is amazing how vividly we can see some information because that is close to some of our strong experiences.

Since language became our primary mechanism for communication and for storage and distribution of knowledge, it is not surprising that our communication technology and applications of computing in many aspects of our activities were strongly influenced by languages.  We developed computing approaches to enhance our communication and information access.  And the results are truly amazing.  How many of us could imagine WWW and mobile phones of today just 20 years ago!  On one hand, all the world’s knowledge stored in books is becoming available to us at any place and any time we want.  On the other hand, mobile phones have really turned to world into a connected place where I can be communicating with anybody independent of where they are and where I am.
But languages capture abstraction of experience and abstractions are far removed from reality.  Also, if you did not experience any thing close to an abstraction, then the abstraction is meaningless.  For example if you don’t know what is a mango and somebody tells you that mango is a very tasty fruit – you still don’t have any idea about it.
Or if somebody tells you that Taj Mahal is stunning in moonlight and you have not even experienced a picture of the Taj Mahal then it is truly difficult to imagine why should it be beautiful in moonlight and how beautiful will it be.

Information is good abstraction in those cases where we are sharing experiences and the experiences have been standardized.  Since abstractions are achieved by substituting a standardized symbol for lots of sensory data – like experiencing mango or Taj Mahal using all your appropriate senses – information is a very standardized representation of experiences and are no substitute of experiences.  We are all used to information because our society evolved to be an information society.  But most people prefer experiences in many if not the most situations.  

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