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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking and visionary, but very short indeed
Leaving aside the possibility of minds, souls, and the like, people used to think that the ultimate "stuff" of the universe is matter. Then thermodynamics matured during the 19th century, culminating with Einstein's theoretical demonstration that matter can be converted to energy, thus rendering energy apparently even more fundamental than matter. Now, as a result of...
Published on May 28, 2010 by Irfan A. Alvi

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42 of 54 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just out of reach
I came to this book full of hope for a concise introduction to the field of information. What I found resembled one of those dreams when you are following someone around endless corridors without any clear idea of where they are going, and you can't quite catch up to the figure to ask them: 'where are we headed and for what purpose?' Perhaps the author's St. Cross...
Published on April 19, 2010 by Historied


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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking and visionary, but very short indeed, May 28, 2010
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Leaving aside the possibility of minds, souls, and the like, people used to think that the ultimate "stuff" of the universe is matter. Then thermodynamics matured during the 19th century, culminating with Einstein's theoretical demonstration that matter can be converted to energy, thus rendering energy apparently even more fundamental than matter. Now, as a result of multiple streams of developments during the 20th century, we live in an age when information is increasingly being viewed as the true ultimate stuff. This is at once both immensely stimulating and perplexing: stimulating because the concept of information has far greater interdisciplinary unifying power than any concept which came before, but perplexing because the concept of information is very abstract and thus elusively slippery.

In this book, Luciano Floridi clearly makes an earnest effort to navigate the difficult terrain presented by the manifold concept of information, and I think he does commendably well. The flow of the book makes sense. He sets the stage by describing how information-saturated our lives have become, to the point where we can be described as "inforgs" living in an "infosphere." He then looks at the concept of information by progressing through increasingly wider contexts: information as data, the mathematical theory of communication of data, semantic aspects of information, physical information (laws of thermodynamics, Maxwell's demon, etc.), biological information (a nicely nuanced discussion), economic information (emphasizing game theory and also touching on Bayes' theorem), a rather creative effort (even if not quite convincing) to reformulate ethical theory from an informational perspective, and finally an epilogue arguing for both the necessity and possibility of merging the natural and manmade worlds.

This broad scope properly reflects most of the key contempary perspectives on information. The follow-up question is whether this breadth comes at the expense of depth, and I think the answer is both yes and no. On one hand, Floridi writes at a fairly high level and thus manages to pack in a good bit of detail; this demands significant concentration by the reader and will make the book hard to follow for readers without at least a little background in the topics discussed. But on the other hand, I did find that the majority of the topics cried out for a much deeper treatment, to the extent that it was sometimes difficult to clearly grasp Floridi's key points because his discussion was simply too brief. In that sense, the book whets the appetite rather than serving up a full meal, so I'm tempted to deduct a star. But it can be argued that the book has fulfilled its mandate of providing a "very short introduction," so let's be generous and stick with 5 stars.

Since this book does a good job of introducing a fundamentally important topic in a groundbreaking and visionary way, and since I don't know of any better book for that purpose, I highly recommend it.
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42 of 54 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just out of reach, April 19, 2010
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
I came to this book full of hope for a concise introduction to the field of information. What I found resembled one of those dreams when you are following someone around endless corridors without any clear idea of where they are going, and you can't quite catch up to the figure to ask them: 'where are we headed and for what purpose?' Perhaps the author's St. Cross College, Oxford founded in 1965 consists of Borgesian labyrinths? From time to time during the reading, I stopped to check the structure and content of the sentences and yes they were properly constructed sentences, and they did appear to have information content by the author's criteria. But as I resumed reading, there was a nagging voice saying 'so what?' I liked his map of the subject matter that he kept pointing out: 'you are here', but then I realized that this did not really help. Reading this book made me have no new thoughts, and being generative is one of my key criteria for awarding stars. Increasingly, I began to wonder if this is the future of what the author calls the infosphere. We will have almost infinite connectivity with unlimited numbers of deeply interesting people (and I sure from his bio that Luciano Floridi is intelligent and interesting), and we will exchange messages of considerably complexity, but with little emotive richness. Messages about messages, self referential solipsist stimulation and I am not sure that is how we want to live? And perhaps unfairly I ultimately felt like I had spent some hours in the company of a Train Spotter (called Foamer in the US) explaining the finer points of the locomotive numbering system. Phew! I did finish it. And I will go back to check I am not doing it an injustice. If someone can help me better understand the author's macro take on information, please write a review. It may just be me.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lucid and interesting introduction to modern conceptualization of information, April 19, 2010
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Information is all around us. As I write this, I am sitting at my computer whish holds more pictures, documents and videos than I ever thought were possible for any single person to accumulate. Besides the word processor, I also have my web browser open, and in it there are no fewer than fifteen different tabs that point to as many different web pages. Most of those are some form of news sites, where I continuously throughout the day feed my insatiable appetite for new and relevant information. It has been remarked for a while that we live in an information age, but that statement has never before been more true. An increasing percentage of US and global economy is dedicated to the handling and manipulation of non-tangible assets and resources, all of which can be thought of as some form of information. This trend is bound only to accelerate in the upcoming years, and this is why it's important to have at least some conceptual understanding of what we mean by information in the most elemental and abstract way. In that regard this book is a very useful and informative source of the basic theoretical framework within which modern scholars view information.

One of the virtues of this book is its immense readability. The author knows how to intrigue his audience and keep it interested in various aspects of information even through some very technically advanced sections. The book is very modern in its approach, especially with respect to the topics that are covered. It covers several highly technical aspects of information: the classical mathematical definition of information and communication due to Shannon, the physical representation of information, and the biological, economic and ethical aspects of information and the forms that information assumes. It also deals with many interesting philosophical issues, but due to the lack of space does not delve too deeply into any one of them.

Whether you are in a field that deals extensively with information or are just a regular 21st century individual, this book has a lot to offer for the understanding of the increasingly complex world that we live in.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comparing Floridi to Seife and Luenberger, June 18, 2013
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This great little book is a quickly readable survey of information science, with an emphasis on philosophy and ethics rather than problem solving or business. Two other extremes (not counting the dozen wonderful Dover titles on information theory for under $5 which are certainly worthwhile) include:

1. Luenberger: Information Science

David's book is about $90 US and our databases show it to be the most used IS textbook, even though it is a 2006 edition. In about 450 pages, it covers the practical applications as well as theory of the entire field of information science, from Shannon to smart phones and economics, minus the "wow how cool is IS" as well as the "we're drowning in info and can't get up" spins.

2. Seife: Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes

Also from 2006, available used for a penny on some Amazon third party offers, 296 pages.

Very Short Intro (VSI- Floridi) fits nicely between the two. Seife is a wonderful page-turner and a must have if you're into information and math. His "zero" book (Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea was a best seller, and also is about 50c used-- an awesome survey of math. Seife covers both practical problem solving and "meta" issues, but is much less thick and ponderous than Floridi, which has to be studied a little more carefully to get the nuances (not a bad thing). But Floridi isn't all "heavy" -- he talks about a researcher in the "near future" (a million years from now) evaluating our current information leaps!

All three texts cover Shannon, but Floridi and Luenberger do so more with generality and reverence, whereas Seife goes into DEEP detail about redundancy, logarithms, the relationship of amplitudes/ signals to codecs (as in Shannon's connecting log forms to entropy), etc. including a great appendix ON logs. If you enjoy math as well as story telling, Seife delivers.

Floridi is of course much more "up to date" in stats (zettabytes!) etc. since he's more current, but you don't really gain or lose anything there, since much of Floridi is about challenging and re-defining at the conceptual, ideational and definitional levels. If you want detailed, applied, usable problem solving, get Luenberger, if you want a "can't put it down" fun read that touches on the fact that we're "really" living in the Matrix, 13th floor, Tron, etc.-- Seife is the ticket. Both Seife and Floridi give that "wow" feeling that we are really information living in information for the sake of, well, information! They both adequately portray the revolutionary wonder of moving from matter to energy to information in our world view, getting more and more universal (or at the risk of induction, which they both trash-- general), at each leap.

The difference is, Floridi is dry and methodical, Seife is fun and amazing, but you need a little more "math love" with Seife on the other hand. Luenberger is, well, a text. Yes, the best text BUT I include him here mostly for the readers that are looking for less wonder and philosophy and more practical "What does all this mean for careers, business, applications, search engines... etc. All three rate 5 stars, for what they intend to be.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for the information, July 19, 2012
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Floridi has written a lucid, compact and at times funny examination of the state of thinking about information in the 21st century, in all its manifestations -- from the Internet to economics to reality itself. Floridi is a philosopher, and his much more detailed book on the philosophy of information will take you much deeper into a few of these topics. I like his approach here -- for information to be transmitted and received, it has to be true, which narrows the focus of the study of information. The chapters on economics and ethics are particularly useful to business majors.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent overview but a bit superficial, May 10, 2013
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
This VSI on information offered plenty of ways to categorize various bits of information but offered few ways as to show how these categories provide value. The author starts with a broad overview and giving general definitions, which will be carried further in later chapters. Sometimes these categories are counterintuitive. For example, semantics and syntax carries an entirely different meaning than it does in the field of linguistics. Of course every field bends the terms to their own uses, it's just that I didn't see what the practical value of such categorization carried. It would have been a useful exercise to see in practice what these rather abstract characterizations benefit users in the actual world. Thus, I wanted to see that we are not just naming without a purpose.

The author provides useful recaps of various fields (e.g. entropy, neurons and how action potentials work), but what I really wish is that the author provided actual ways in which people use information today (think data mining, marketing etc.) using new techniques that were not available before. Instead we get a plethora of examples of information in use in very abstract ways (e.g. game theory).

The last section on ethics was very good, and I thought that this might be due to it being the author's own area of expertise.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Well-written, August 29, 2013
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Covers the topics that I was interested in reading about.
This book appears to be an original work by the author, although there may be
other similar titles.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of the concepts of information and communication, August 12, 2013
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A nice and entertaining account of information and communication, with their implications on science, society, biology, ethics, etc. Although I do not completely agree with the qualification given by the author to genetic information, this book has been inspiring for me. I think the concept of information and its mathematical theory has been underused in several areas of science, and that the work of Luciano Floridi will help the open minds to brew new lines of application of this field
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For your information, this was okay..., July 29, 2013
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This review is from: Information: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Not as detailed on "information theory" as I would have liked, but I do believe it has the best non-mathematical description of Shannon Entropy versus thermodynamic entropy. Better reads, or perhaps more detailed reads: The Information, or The Coded Universe. But of course, neither of those would qualify as "short" or "introductory".

If you don't want too much math but do want to understand the newer theories of information, this is a great start.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent content, poor edition, July 8, 2013
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This is an excellent introduction to the study of information in various facets that I would strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in the field. I do not however recommend the Kindle edition (which I have purchased) because I found a surprising number of typos, OCR errors, etc. These seem to be signs of a sloppy edition, to say the least, that seriously compromise the quality of this work.
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Information: A Very Short Introduction
Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi (Paperback - March 26, 2010)
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