Nav: Home

New definition returns meaning to information

October 22, 2018

A fish on the Great Barrier Reef continually acquires new information from its environment -- the location of food, the murkiness of the water, and the sounds of distant ships, to name a few examples. But only some of that information is meaningful, in that it actually helps the fish survive. In various disciplines, from biology to artificial intelligence, identifying such meaningful, or "semantic," information is a key challenge. Yet a broadly applicable, fully formal definition of this kind of information has never been developed.

A new paper by the Santa Fe Institute's Artemy Kolchinsky, a postdoctoral fellow specializing in information theory, and professor David Wolpert, a mathematician and physicist, proposes one. Taking cues from statistical physics and information theory, they've come up with a definition that emphasizes how a particular piece of information contributes to the ability of a physical system to perpetuate itself -- which in the context of common biological organisms means its ability to survive. Semantic information, they write, is "the information that a physical system has about its environment that is causally necessary for the system to maintain its own existence over time."

For example, the location of food is semantic information to the Great Barrier Reef fish because it's essential for the fish's survival. But the sound of a distant ship does not contribute to the fish's viability, so it does not qualify as semantic information.

Kolchinsky and Wolpert hope that this new, formal definition of semantic information can help researchers sort the wheat from the chaff when trying to make sense of the information a physical system has about its environment.

"Some information can be extraordinarily meaningful to an organism, while other information can have no meaning," Wolpert says. "While it seems obvious that this distinction is crucial for analyzing biological organisms, it has never been formalized. Moreover, to avoid the fraught issue of defining a 'biological organism,' we wanted our definition of meaningful information to be applicable to both living and non-living physical systems, such as rocks and hurricanes."

The researchers' definition fills a hole in information theory left by Claude Shannon, who intentionally omitted the issue of the "meaning" of information in his iconic paper that created the field, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," in 1948.

In the realm of biology, understanding the role of semantic information could help answer some of the discipline's most intriguing questions, such as how the earliest life forms evolved, or how existing ones adapt, says Kolchinsky. "When we talk about fitness and adaptation, does semantic information increase over evolutionary time? Do organisms get better at picking up information that's meaningful to them?"
-end-


Santa Fe Institute

Related Artificial Intelligence Articles:

A hidden history of artificial intelligence in primary care
Artificial intelligence methods are being utilized in radiology, cardiology and other medical specialty fields to quickly and accurately process large quantities of health data to improve the diagnostic and treatment power of health care teams.
Identifying light sources using artificial intelligence
Identifying sources of light plays an important role in the development of many photonic technologies, such as lidar, remote sensing, and microscopy.
Artificial intelligence could serve as backup to radiologists' eyes
Deploying artificial intelligence could help radiologists to more accurately classify lung diseases.
Reducing the carbon footprint of artificial intelligence
MIT system cuts the energy required for training and running neural networks.
Researchers rebuild the bridge between neuroscience and artificial intelligence
In an article in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers reveal that they have successfully rebuilt the bridge between experimental neuroscience and advanced artificial intelligence learning algorithms.
Artificial intelligence can help some businesses but may not work for others
The temptation for businesses to use artificial intelligence and other technology to improve performance, drive down labor costs, and better the bottom line is understandable.
Artificial intelligence could help predict future diabetes cases
A type of artificial intelligence called machine learning can help predict which patients will develop diabetes, according to an ENDO 2020 abstract that will be published in a special supplemental section of the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
Artificial intelligence for very young brains
Montreal's CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital and the ÉTS engineering school pool their expertise to develop an innovative new technology for the segmentation of neonatal brain images.
Putting artificial intelligence to work in the lab
An Australian-German collaboration has demonstrated fully-autonomous SPM operation, applying artificial intelligence and deep learning to remove the need for constant human supervision.
Composing new proteins with artificial intelligence
Scientists have long studied how to improve proteins or design new ones.
More Artificial Intelligence News and Artificial Intelligence Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.