information theory

mathematical theory from the field of probability theory and statistics

Information theory studies the quantification, storage, and communication of information. It was originally proposed by Claude Shannon in 1948 to find fundamental limits on signal processing and communication operations such as data compression, in a landmark paper titled "A Mathematical Theory of Communication". Its impact has been crucial to the success of the Voyager missions to deep space, the invention of the compact disc, the feasibility of mobile phones, the development of the Internet, the study of linguistics and of human perception, the understanding of black holes, and numerous other fields. The field is at the intersection of mathematics, statistics, computer science, physics, neurobiology, information engineering, and electrical engineering. The theory has also found applications in other areas, including statistical inference, natural language processing, cryptography, neurobiology, human vision, the evolution and function of molecular codes (bioinformatics), model selection in statistics, thermal physics, quantum computing, linguistics, plagiarism detection, pattern recognition, and anomaly detection. Important sub-fields of information theory include source coding, algorithmic complexity theory, algorithmic information theory, information-theoretic security, Grey system theory and measures of information. Applications of fundamental topics of information theory include lossless data compression (e.g. ZIP files), lossy data compression (e.g. MP3s and JPEGs), and channel coding (e.g. for DSL). Information theory is used in information retrieval, intelligence gathering, gambling, and even in musical composition. A key measure in information theory is entropy. Entropy quantifies the amount of uncertainty involved in the value of a random variable or the outcome of a random process. For example, identifying the outcome of a fair coin flip (with two equally likely outcomes) provides less information (lower entropy) than specifying the outcome from a roll of a die (with six equally likely outcomes). Some other important measures in information theory are mutual information, channel capacity, error exponents, and relative entropy.
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main subject: information theory


Decoding the Universe

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author: Charles Seife


Too Big to Know

2012 book by David Weinberger

author: David Weinberger


A Mathematical Theory of Communication

1948 article by Claude Shannon

author: Claude Shannon


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