Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies Paperback – 7 Apr 2016
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A bold attempt to synthesise a large body of cutting-edge work into a readable, slender volume... his thought-provoking book deserves to be widely read (Financial Times)
Mr Hidalgo succeeds brilliantly in bringing his complex subject to life. His book is full of nuggets, from memorable phrases to interesting metaphors (Economist)
[Hidalgo's] innovative thinking about what drives growth could help us to navigate the turbulence of the ever more interconnected global economy... He has identified a fertile seam (Nature)
The concept of information is necessary to make sense of anything that is not a boring featureless mass, including life, mind, society, and value. Why Information Grows lucidly explains the foundations of this essential concept, while creatively applying it in exciting new ways. It is filled with interesting ideas, and a pleasure to read (Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works)
Why Information Grows shows us how humans infuse information into matter, making it more valuable than gold. Hidalgo's work brilliantly spotlights the true alchemy of the twenty-first century and its impact from economic complexity to national competitiveness (Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Distinguished Professor and Director of Northeastern University's Center for Complex Network Research, and author of Linked)
Using physics and computer science to examine why some nations prosper while others do not --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.See all Product description
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As a point of departure the author responds to the question as to why and how Economies grow? He argues that Economies grow because the information contained in them grows not just in human capital, but also recently exponentially in networks that connect everyone and even in the objects that populate the world. Additionally, this ever - expanding pool of information did not start with humans, but dates back to the beginning of time, hence his previously mentioned universal theory of information.
To the legitimate question as to how, in a universe that according to the laws of Thermodynamics moves towards entropy and randomness - order and hence information - is born and grow? The author suggests that order arises from chaos when a system is in non - equilibrium. Such steady states of a non - equilibrium system are indeed numerous. Earth itself, because it is spinning around the sun, is a system that is constantly out of equilibrium, and is hence an enclave in which information is generated even though the universe around it is growing increasingly random.
To make information enduring and help it grow, nature has evolved several solutions. Order can be stored in solids and DNA is an excellent case in point.
Physical systems can compute, and provide different outputs depending on, for instance, how much energy is provided as an impact.
Humans are the highest form of order thus created. In contrast with most other species, humans can turn their thoughts into tangible objects. They do this by sharing their knowledge to improve their lives. And since their individual capacities are limited, they share things and form ever more complex networks to co - operate. Ultimately the Economy is the collective system by which humans make information grow, observes the author.
The articulation of this brilliant, original, and profound insight in the book renders it such an exciting read.
When I first got involved in IT in the 1970s, we were in awe of the Media Lab and all the ultra-clever, way-out technology concepts that they rolled out, convincing us that we were seeing the future in the visionary work. But over time, none of their concepts really seemed to become a reality. They might have inspired others, but they continued to be ultra-clever, way-out oddities that rarely managed to cross the divide to the real world.
I felt the same about this book. It started out, like a visit to the Media Lab, as a dazzling mix of information theory and economics and philosophy - but in the end it all appeared to be on the surface. It never really got anywhere. And along the way it was often repetitive to the point that I strongly felt that I was being talked down to.
I suppose it's a big point to make, but the author repeats the importance and presence of information so many times in the first few chapters. He also makes statements that just aren't true. He says, for instance, in one of those tedious personal story examples American authors seem programmed to start chapters with that his daughter's birth was 'facilitated not by objects, but by the information embedded in those objects'. What he really meant was 'by objects and the information embedded in them' because the information alone wouldn’t have achieved the goal. There’s a fuzziness here in the expression of the thesis, combined with not particularly effective examples in explaining, for instance, the relationship of information theory and the second law of thermodynamics that gives the book a feeling of something that is imagined to be a lot more effective than it really is.
It’s not a bad book in intent. It is really important to think about the nature of imagination, and the idea that the manufactured objects we use are ‘crystallised imagination’ would be excellent if we were only told it once, rather than what felt like 50 times. It’s also interesting to consider how imagination has shaped our modern world and how it has an impact on national economies. But the Media Lab treatment, rather than illuminating, dazzles us to the extent that it’s hard to see what lies beneath.
Things get a little better, if duller, when Hidalgo focuses primarily on economics - though here the clear flaw is in the description of economics as a science (can anything so inconsistent be a science?), which comes through strongly. What is well worth doing is the examination of why different parts of the world have very different economies, though I don’t think Hidalgo gives enough consideration to aspects like natural resources, stable and (relatively) uncorrupt government and health.
Definitely a book that’s worth a look, but with strong provisos.
There are some fairly high level ideas expressed - products as the crystallisation of ideas - but there isn't really the depth to give this book the substance it probably deserves. I would have enjoyed it more if the author wrote a longer book with more details about how his ideas of information theory are applied more deeply.
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