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Infosense: Understanding Information to Survive in the Knowledge Society Hardcover – 12 Oct 1999


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. H. Freeman (12 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716734842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716734840
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,213,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'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.' - Wired

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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 May 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the book that nails many of the myths and misconceptions of the IT industry. Perhaps if enough people read this they'll have to go back to talking about Data Processing!
Devlin provides crystal clear reasoning (and some supporting mathematical reasoning) as to why information is the product of a person interacting with data (that is, data in any form - even a Word document or a photograph - contains no information of itself) and how knowledge is a characteristic of a person not a system. He effectively debunks all of the claims of the IT-based "knowledge" toolset vendors and explains why expert systems fail. The examples of how context affects interpretation are excellent - and horrifying.
Should be compulsory reading in IT and HR departments throughout the land.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 Aug. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
'Dick-and-Jane' Information and Situation Theory for Dummies 12 Sept. 2000
By Sarah Colgan - Published on Amazon.com
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. An early discussion surrounding the effect of the growth of necessary information-processing on productivity in the United States starting in 1950 to today. Data abounds in an attempt to exemplify that we do not as yet know how to utilize information. However, no sources are cited for his data nor is 'productivity' ever defined. A question which came up in my mind but was never addressed by Devlin is that if the United States were increasingly relying on information-processing, perhaps the definition of productivity would change.
To put Devlin's own methods to use on this particular situation, he provided his readers with data. This data was the physical words on the page which i perceived by my senses. Because I know how to read (this is a constraint), I get information from the data. Because I know how to weigh this information it becomes knowledge to me. Unfortunately, I was not given useful information and thus it caused confusion which is the opposite of being informed.
Generally, this is the case with "Infosense" throughout. If one is prepared to believe Devlin without questioning and to use his proffered business methods and ideas, then perhaps it will work. Unfortunately, for any other kind of intellectual or beyond the surface analysis, "Infosense" is useless as it creates more uncertainty than it resolves.
39 of 54 people found the following review helpful
New tools, easy to use 6 Aug. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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. Most generally, the type of these situations would be those that involve "life," as a matter of fact, those that involve my life. But, really, isn't that just one situation-- the situation in which I exist? On this account, I get "Life-- I can think about it or I can be it." OK, for a backward look over the horizon that seems easy enough. But what about the future? With a score of books under his belt Keith Devlin can be classified as a prolific author. I, for one, look forward to what he's going to say next. For those who might also want to keep tabs, I think "InfoSense: Turning Information into Knowledge" provides the perfect foundation.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Low-tech path to higher productivity 14 Aug. 2001
By Andrew B. King - Published on Amazon.com
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.
It seems that the more participants in a meeting, the higher the likelihood that the group will spend most of the time discussing information already known. This is because people have a tendency to discuss what they already know, and not bring up new subjects in conversation. They lack adequate "common knowledge" and need to be consciously guided to be effective.
An example: here's how to avoid going over familiar ground in a meeting:
1. Get participants to submit in advance the points they wish to make. 2. Adapt a round-robin format where each person in turn is asked to contribute something new. 3. List each new item introduced on a flipchart or a whiteboard. 4. Constantly remind the participants that the aim is to examine new information or ideas. 5. Cast the task at hand in an open-ended fashion as one of examining all the options, rather than making ajudgement or arriving at a decision. 6. Ensure that everyone in the group has a clearly defined and clearly understood area of expertise. 7. Build up the team over time, so everyone becomes familiar with one another's areas of expertise and with their strengths and weaknesses.
Columbo was really creating context when, at the last minute, he turned around at the door and said "Oh, and one more thing I don't understand...." Experts are those who know the rules so well, they routinely break them. To become an expert at the art of communication, this is a good place to start. From WebReference.com.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
lackluster 23 Jan. 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was excited to read Infosense. Its a topic I'm interested in. And on page 1 I was excited. And on page 10 I was excited and on page 15 , and 30 and 40 I began to be less excited...Devlin, who is supposedly a real master in the field didn't seem to provide any answers. Sometimes he would ask a good question and I got excited that there would be an equally good answer and instead found an answer that seemed like one a smart guy with very little time would come up with. This books reads like a disjointed work, like a publisher wanted another book...and fast and Devlin had to race to put together some ideas. I don't doubt Devlin is intelligent, but his assumptions seem to lack any kind of depth or definition.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Camping with Devlin 9 Sept. 2000
By Benjamin Graff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Keith Devlin suggests in the preface of "Infosense" to "think of this book as a `how to survive' manual for life in the knowledge age." However, if the reader attempted to use this book as a survival guide he would probably find himself lost in the forest of information, with Devlin's comments acting more like fireside anecdotes and marshmallows of common-sense advice than a field manual.
This book was written for professionals looking to understand the nuances of interpersonal and intracorporate communication; to Devlin's credit these subjects, as well as persuasion, developing expertise, and the basic role of computers in "the knowledge age" are all (albeit briefly) discussed. At his best, Devlin uses examples and anecdotes from his vast experience in communication research to reveal the basic principals underlying these topics. Chapters 12 through 22 deal with an array of pertinent topics: for example, in Chapters 15 and 16 Devlin explores how both national and workplace cultures effect worker productivity and creativity, citing examples from the U.S. Navy, the film "Waterworld," and Microsoft. In these two chapters, Devlin explains that it is neither the technology nor the how-to information which drive an industry, but rather "that culture is the key to an efficient working infrastructure; culture endures and resists change but specific expertise [both technical and how-to information] can be acquired" (147). On this topic, as well as meeting discussion (Chapter 12), persuasion (Chapter 13), the nature of expertise (Chapters 17, 20, and 21), and especially information organization and sharing (Chapters 18 and 19), Devlin is well served by his anecdotal style, and workforce readers will certainly be able to identify with the presented concepts and themes.
Unfortunately, during the course of Devlin's stories and advice virtually no new or innovative theories or concepts are forwarded. The author suggests "a 5-percent increase in output and efficiency" is possible if the "science" (Devlin's quotes) in his book is used as the basis of ones understanding of communication. In actuality, the 5-percent increase would come from the refresher course Devlin offers in basic management theory and implementation that any businessperson would surely get from an intro management or leadership course in college. While his anecdotes are entertaining and compelling, it seems Devlin reinvents the wheel several times under the guise of his "science" - termed "Situation Theory."
Devlin presents Situation Theory as his "manual for life in the knowledge age." Beginning in the prologue, the author promises to "outline the basic science and give some applications...both in everyday life and in real companies" (p.5). While Devlin obviously succeeds in the second of these goals, it is the first that makes "Infosense" problematic. For example, during the first 6 chapters Devlin continuously attempts to define the key term "information." In the meandering discussion of the first 68 pages, Devlin defines information as: "Information=Data + Meaning" (p.12), "Information=Representation + Procedure for encoding/decoding" (p.32), "Information=Representation + Constraint" (p.33), "information is context-dependent" (p.37), and (my personal favorite) "information tells us something about something" (p.61). By the end of this string of defining and redefining, the reader is left solidly confused as to what information is, let alone how it is applicable to Devlin's Situation Theory.
As if that weren't confusing enough, Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11 attempt to apply this befuddled view if information and Situation Theory to conversation. These 40 pages can be summarized in two simple statements: 1) Conversation relies on the background of the speakers and the situation they are in, and 2) The more people that are in a conversation, the greater chance of confusion. These very simple and obvious natures of human interaction are hammered home again and again, often belaboring the same points and failing to analyze exceptions to the rules. To add to the difficulty, illustrations have been added which only complicate what should be a fairly straightforward discussion. With the exception of Chapter 10 (an interesting example highlighting the art of persuasion), the first 11 chapters of "Infosense" are a cluttered collection of facts, common-sense advice, and jargon which do little to increase the readers understanding of information or how it is applicable to the workplace. As this is both Devlin's stated purpose and the target audience's ("the CEO, the middle manager, the ambitious young assistant, the office worker..." p. Viii) goal in reading the book, "Infosense" falls regretfully short, at least in this half of the book.
In final analysis, Devlin's "Infosense" can be read by anyone looking for an anecdotal introduction or refresher of basic management and/or communication skills. I would not recommend buying it (especially in hardcover), but the stories of the second half of the book, if taken as solid examples of the fundamental points they emphasize, certainly warrant checking it out at the library.
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