Structure

(Revised from the original call for papers)

Information has been conceptualised in many different ways in different disciplines. We are keen to involve as many different people, from as many different disciplines, as possible in presenting and participating in the workshop. We invite a wide range of participants to give short (10 minute) presentations on their work as it relates to an understanding of information. There are four themed sessions of talks and panel discussions, each lasting 3 hours, and one final ‘synthesis’ session lasting 2 hours

Each of the four sessions is structured to start with two invited keynote speakers. Keynote speakers are allocated 30 minutes for a talk and a limited number of questions. There are then two further presentations, each allocated 10 minutes before a coffee break, followed by a further two 10-minute presentations leaving around 30 minutes for a panel discussion involving all speakers in the session.

Each session focuses on the way in which information is conceptualised within a different set of disciplines – philosophy, science, business/education and social science. In each case, the relationship between technical disciplines and these other fields is taken to be paramount. The goal of the workshop at each stage is to create conversations across disciplines, but especially between technical and non-technical disciplines.

Session 1: What is information?

Keynote speakers: Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Vienna University of Technology; Chris Bissell, Professor of Telematics, The Open University

Claude Shannon used the word ‘information’ with a precise technical meaning, and in his seminal paper (Shannon, 1948) was careful to distance his usage from semantic aspects of communication. Nevertheless, others – including Warren Weaver in Shannon and Weaver (1949) – have built on Shannon’s definition to take in higher-level concepts such as knowledge and meaning. Later, and coming from a rather different direction but arguably taking in Shannon’s concept of information, Gregory Bateson famously defined information as “the difference that makes a difference” (Bateson, 1972). Shannon’s definition has been contested by various authors but remains foundational to most discussions of information.

Today the word information is probably used more than ever before and in a wider range of disciplines than ever before. But what do the different disciplines mean by the word? Can we identify a definition in each discipline, and is the definition the same, similar – or are they in fact talking about something completely different?

In this session we explore the philosophical underpinnings of information, and consider how it is conceptualised within a wide range of disciplines. Through fostering a conversation between the disciplines we will try to identify commonalities and differences. We are not seeking to create a universal definition of information, but rather to look for underlying themes and family resemblances.

Session 2: Understanding with information

Keynote speakers: Vlatko Vedral, Professor of Quantum Information Theory, Universities of Oxford and Singapore; Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology, The Open University

Information theory based on Shannon’s work is a tool of engineers, with information being is measured and used to assess the performance of digital systems. Scientists use information to explain the behaviour of physical and biological systems. Information flow in organisations is part of the language of business schools, and information is used as a tool of the state. Semioticians interpret the world through signs which themselves can be discussed in terms of information.

In this session we will particularly focus on the scientific understanding of information, look at how the concept is used to explain phenomena in a range of different disciplines, and explore whether the explanations in one discipline have any application on another.

Session 3: Engaging with information

Keynote speakers: Richard Harper, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research; Tony Hirst, Communication and Systems Department, The Open University

Across a range of disciplines, the key issue about information is the way that we engage with it – the tools we use to store, process and disseminate it, the communities within which we collectively create information, the cultural and psychological factors which shape the way we make sense of information. This session is all about the ‘how’ of information. Some of these hows will be founded on a model of information as a passive object to be stored and transmitted, others will treat it as some very participative and fluid.

In this session we will especially focus on information as it relates to business, library science, and education, as well as emerging fields such as web science. In each case the focus is likely to be on the many different ways in which individuals, groups, societies and machines interact with information.

Session 4: The impact of information

Keynote speaker: Hugh Mackay, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University

Is information our slave or our master? What kind of society do we want to build around it? Who are ‘we’ in a radically distributed, globalised world where boundaries are rendered irrelevant by the Internet? Or is this too utopian a conception in a world where national governments of a wide range of political hues can use firewalls and CCTV to control their citizens’ access to knowledge and capacity to act?

Talk of the information society has moved to talk of Web 2.0, convergence and interactivity. Culture, society and media – each of which has always been about information – are being radically transformed through new technologies, and in turn culture and society are transforming technologies through their use.

In this session, we will focus on the social impact of information, conceived through the relationship between technical and sociological perspectives. We will seek to understand how information and society relate today, and where their relationship might be going in the future.

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