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Infosense: Understanding Information to Survive in the Knowledge Society Hardcover – July, 1999

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Editorial Reviews


"Devlin, an accomplished numberist . . . gives us a clear picture of his subject . . . the key, says Devlin, is not information, but knowledge, which he defines as information put into practice."

"The best thing about doing business today is the wealth of information available. The worst thing about doing business today is the wealth of information available. If you want to make sense of it—if you want to learn how to turn information into useful knowledge—read this book."
—Guy Kawasaki, author of Rules for Revolutionaries and How to Drive Your Competition Crazy

"In InfoSense, Keith Devlin deftly applies some of the insights of the new discipline of Situation Theory to common problems in business communication. The importance of context and the frequent vagueness of conversation are just two of the areas he illuminates in this enticing study."
—John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy; A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper; and Once Upon a Number

"Devlin and his colleagues have mathematically validated a number of interesting strategies for boosting productivity and innovation within a group . . . Readers immersing themselves in InfoSense will find there is far more to information than meets the I."
Technology Review
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Keith Devlin is Dean of the School of Science at Saint Mary's College of California and Senior Researcher at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Information. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is the author of a number of books, including The Language of Mathematics; Life by the Numbers; Goodbye, Descartes; Logic and Information; and Mathematics: The Science of Patterns.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 215 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716734842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716734840
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,156,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Keith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University in California. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the university's H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford Media X research network, and a Senior Researcher at CSLI. He has written 31 books and over 80 published research articles. His books have been awarded the Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize, and his writing has earned him the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his "innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics." He is "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio. (Archived at

He is a World Economic Forum Fellow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. Other research interests include: theory of information, models of reasoning, applications of mathematical techniques in the study of communication, and mathematical cognition.

He writes a monthly column for the Mathematical Association of America, "Devlin's Angle":

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Colgan on September 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As primarily a business-oriented book, Infosense is intended to improve the flow of information, particularly in companies. The initial problem with any book discussing an academic theory is to keep it in terms which the intended audience can understand and use. However, by keeping to 'Dick-and-Jane' simplicity, the clarity of Devlin's overall work suffers.
Throughout the first chapter alone, confusion ensues. Devlin attempts give a functional definition for the terms data, information and knowledge but does not ensure the reader's understanding of this. Giving no precise definitions, Devlin leaves the reader to comprehend by oblique means. First, he writes that "Whatever it is, information can be a valuable commodity, to be collected, guarded, duplicated, sold, stolen and sometimes killed for" as he is leading up to an explanation.
However, the explanation is quickly derailed by the statement that first we must understand data and then we must understand knowledge, and so on until it is skipped over completely to follow the path of how information flows and solving problems.
Devlin often returns to his favorite buzzphrase "Situation Theory" which he has been involved in for more than ten years. Even as he tries to trace most of his assertions back to this wondrous cure-all, one has even less of an understanding of this theory than of information. One more into the oblique, my friend.
Since "Infosense" was penned by a mathematician, one might expect a horrid series of equations and scientific methodology (which occur in small, easy to use quantities although not very useful) but instead find unsubstatiated numbers in many of his examples.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Andrew B. King on August 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Information is everywhere. To paraphrase Yoda, "it surrounds us, it binds us." It has become the only "tangible" product many of us work with. As information becomes the most valuable asset a company has, how do we manage it all?
In InfoSense, noted mathematician and popular science writer Keith Devlin shows us how to make sense of the constant flow of information that bombards us daily. What is crucial, Devlin says, is to understand the difference between data, information and knowledge.
Devlin's mathematical inclinations show with his equations that illustrate his points. Equations like "Information = Data + Meaning" and "Knowledge = Internalized information + ability to utilize the information." Essentially, information only turns into knowledge when we attach meaning to it. When we understand it. Distinguishing between the various types of info in the flow is all-important. Here are some key points addressed in the book:
* Why people, not computers, are the most effective way to transfer knowledge * How social and cultural factors influence work * The hidden rules of everyday communication * How to conduct a meeting to achieve what you want * How to avoid miscommunication
Devlin's low-tech way to higher productivity is straightforward, learn how to communicate better. He shows how to converse more efficiently, how to run more effective meetings, and how to avoid miscommunication (with some shocking airline accident examples) with clear unambiguous language.
Devlin uses Situation theory to illustrate how to increase productivity within a group. He says that the ideal group size is two or three. As you add more group members the likelihood of confusion increases.
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39 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I think that to be useful, any new, breakthrough analytic tool should enable me to describe the past in a brand new way, and then based on that, say something new about the future. It should, as it were, enable me to look backward over the horizon, uncover a pattern that's never been seen before, and then look forward over the horizon to show, for all future instances, that this pattern will remain the same. If the new analytic tool is also an engineering breakthrough, I should find it very easy to apply. The tools that Keith Devlin describes for the first time for the general public, in his new book "InfoSense: Turning Information into Knowledge," satisfy these criteria. He looks backward over the horizon to clarify the "liar paradox" of the ancient Greeks. Then he looks forward over the horizon to say things about the emerging global infrastructure of computers. In both cases, he applies new tools to discover a pattern that's evident in "information." So to check on their ease of application, I applied the tools myself. I looked at another puzzle from the ancient Greeks, a fragment from Parmenides' writings that survived later book burnings-- "...the same thing is for thinking and being." First, Devlin says to look for the "infon." Deep in the bibliography there's mathematics that, in fact, connected infons have the structure of rigorous thought. Then Devlin says to look for the "situation" that supports the infon and categorize its type. (Together, the infon and its supporting situation determine the information that's conveyed.) Situations about which I can think, and which are of the type in which I can "be," comprise any situation that exists and of which I'm conscious.Read more ›
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