The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life’s Unending Algorithm. Scharf, Caleb

One of the most peculiar and possibly unique features of humans is the vast amount of information we carry outside our biological selves. But in our rush to build the infrastructure for the 20 quintillion bits we create every day, we’ve failed to ask exactly why we’re expending ever-increasing amounts of energy, resources, and human effort to maintain all this data.

Drawing on deep ideas and frontier thinking in evolutionary biology, computer science, information theory, and astrobiology, Caleb Scharf argues that information is, in a very real sense, alive. All the data we create—all of our emails, tweets, selfies, A.I.-generated text and funny cat videos—amounts to an aggregate lifeform. It has goals and needs. It can control our behavior and influence our well-being. And it’s an organism that has evolved right alongside us.

This symbiotic relationship with information offers a startling new lens for looking at the world. Data isn’t just something we produce; it’s the reason we exist. This powerful idea has the potential to upend the way we think about our technology, our role as humans, and the fundamental nature of life.

The Ascent of Information offers a humbling vision of a universe built of and for information. Scharf explores how our relationship with data will affect our ongoing evolution as a species. Understanding this relationship will be crucial to preventing our data from becoming more of a burden than an asset, and to preserving the possibility of a human future.

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Extracting real social interactions from social media: a debate of COVID-19 policies in Mexico

Alberto García-Rodríguez, Tzipe Govezensky, Carlos Gershenson, Gerardo G. Naumis, Rafael A. Barrio
A study of the dynamical formation of networks of friends and enemies in social media, in this case Twitter, is presented. We characterise the single node properties of such networks, as the clustering coefficient and the degree, to investigate the structure of links. The results indicate that the network is made from three kinds of nodes: one with high clustering coefficient but very small degree, a second group has zero clustering coefficient with variable degree, and finally, a third group in which the clustering coefficient as a function of the degree decays as a power law. This third group represents ∼2% of the nodes and is characteristic of dynamical networks with feedback. This part of the lattice seemingly represents strongly interacting friends in a real social network.

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Thermodynamic Efficiency of Interactions in Self-Organizing Systems

Ramil Nigmatullin and Mikhail Prokopenko

Entropy 2021, 23(6), 757

The emergence of global order in complex systems with locally interacting components is most striking at criticality, where small changes in control parameters result in a sudden global reorganization. We study the thermodynamic efficiency of interactions in self-organizing systems, which quantifies the change in the system’s order per unit of work carried out on (or extracted from) the system. We analytically derive the thermodynamic efficiency of interactions for the case of quasi-static variations of control parameters in the exactly solvable Curie–Weiss (fully connected) Ising model, and demonstrate that this quantity diverges at the critical point of a second-order phase transition. This divergence is shown for quasi-static perturbations in both control parameters—the external field and the coupling strength. Our analysis formalizes an intuitive understanding of thermodynamic efficiency across diverse self-organizing dynamics in physical, biological, and social domains.

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Too Lazy to Read the Book: Episode 10 with Dashun Wang

Dashun is an Associate Professor and the Founding Director of the Center for Science of Science and Innovation at Northwestern University. 

He works on the Science of Science, turning the scientific method upon ourselves, using amazing new datasets and tools from complexity sciences and artificial intelligence.

His research has been published repeatedly in journals like Nature and Science, and has been featured in virtually all major global media outlets. Dashun is a recipient of multiple awards for his research and teaching, including Young Investigator awards, Poets & Quants Best 40 Under 40 Professors, Junior Scientific Award from the Complex Systems Society, Thinkers50 Radar List, and more. 

In this wide-ranging conversation, we talk about his life, career and his new book The Science of Science.

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