@Shamar Fantastic article! Congratulations!

We need to stop thinking technology is neutral and that we as engineers are not doing politics.

Thanks @ondiz!

Let's hope more people will take the red pill!


@Shamar @thegibson @enkiv2 @aral @natecull @bob @abs
'Informatics' seems to be a more common term in europe, & the american equivalent is probably not "computer science" but either "information science" or "IT". "Information science" is an interesting term, since it overlaps with "library science" & that's a useful lens: tech & practices aimed at making the human fund of knowledge available to humanity.

@enkiv2 @Shamar @thegibson @aral @natecull @bob @abs
The 'red pill' framing at the end, while it's not strictly incorrect, might be rhetorically a bad idea, since it's been widely appropriated by anti-humanist movements.

@enkiv2 @Shamar @thegibson @aral @natecull @bob @abs
I'll give it another, more thorough reading later & probably come up with more commentary.


How did this happen?
(and sorry for the ignorance, what is an "anti-humanist movement"?)

In any case, I'm pretty happy to take back!

long replay 

@Shamar I think we've already talked about this a bit in the past, but I'm not sure what exactly was covered back then so I'll just share a few thoughts on and related to that article.

I hope we can agree that your notion of Informatics is very different from that used in practice (ie. as the title of a university department). For example, your notion also covers things like poetry, film and dance, which are very far from what CS departments are occupied with.

I also don't think that your notion of Informatics is very meaningful. It's way too broad to really demarcate a field. Any research topic is about information in some way or another. To that end, the second half of your article seems to mainly be concerned with programming. However, you never give a proper argument why programming, not dance or journalism, is emblematic for Informatics. All of it is about converting between information and data.

Another tendency, more broad, tendency I very much dislike about that article is the approach of reducing everything to "your thing" (Informatics and more specifically programming, in this case). This seems especially. common among programmers. Of course it feels nice to be holding the keys to the "world formula", but it just ends up being overly reductive. Take for example "Compared to this, debunking a Fake News is a kids game" which is perfectly ridiculous. Claiming that computer systems are somehow more complex than the interplay that goes into forming "reality" is pure hubris. Of course reducing matters into your model of the world (for example as programs, or whatever) can be useful. However, this should not be taken as evidence that there is nothing more to the world than that. Everything else would be pure chauvinism.

Lastly, as this article seems to be an attempt at a characterization of the "field you care about", I briefly want to do the same for myself. Admittedly, because this is something that I've spent a lot of time thinking about and would always be interested in opinions about. The definition I have arrived at is that what I care about is "the subfield of mathematics that is concerned with computation". There are two interesting parts of this definition. "Mathematics" suggests, that the main vehicle are proofs and logic, rather than experiments or experience. "Computation" draws the border between relevant and irrelevant. For example, real numbers are fundamentally uncomputational and therefore irrelevant. I'm not sure there is a really fitting term for this, although the British's "computing science" and the term "constructive mathematics" are the closest to this as far as I know. Importantly, practical matters, such as implementation of compilers, hardware and operating systems, lie outside that field. In that way, it is also different to what is commonly referred to as "computer science" (just as your "Informatics").

Sorry for the long ramble, I hope there was something interesting to you in here. :ablobsmile:

about informatics, long 

Thanks @abs for your feedback. They are really welcome.

Yes we talked about this stuffs before when I published tesio.it/2018/10/11/math-scien

For sure my definition is different from the one used by "in practice". At least if by "in practice" you mean by market and whatever it influences.

The point is, you are right about this, if these definitions are useful (thus meaningful) or not.

As far as I can see, you don't have any objections about the definitions of Information and Data so I take them for good.
As for Informatics I don't think that it is too broad: it's just general and abstracted from the hardware.

IMO, it's false that any research topics is about information. It's true that any research project produces information, but the topic of the research and thus the topic of the information produced itself is not information or the techniques to use it.

The only fields whose topic is information are actually Mathematics and Informatics. But since Informatics use all the conceptual tools of Math but not the other way around, Math is a subset of Informatics.

Same for poetry, film and dance: they produce information but most of times they are not about information so they are not, by themselves, covered by the definition I gave.

Why programming and not journalism?

For a very short time in my life (roughly 2 months) I've been a journalist. After being censored for the 4th time I quit the job (which was not well payed anyway).
My mentor used to say that a good journalist need just three things: a paper, a pencil and a good dose of skepticism.

The practice of journalism however is not as free as the practice of programming. I've never wrote anything subversive for the newspaper I was working for. But the censorship were done to not offend or contradict any potential advertisers.

That's why I don't think a world of journalists would be much better than the present.

On the other hand a world of hackers would be much much better.

In any case, all the text about the programs execution from the computers that "play" them was to explain why programming is fundamental to understand what informatics is.

Indeed if Informatics is just about Information, programming is the best way to understand it as there is not necessarily another discipline implied.

Also journalists (for example) won't have much control about how the readers will use the news he write.
OTOH, programmers have a very fine grained control over what they can or cannot do.

Moreover, software is played by hardware that strictly follows our instructions.
So it's REALLY like if we were able to summon daemons and control them.

Yet (again just like Math), the fact that Informatics pertain a fundamental building block of humans' interactions (the Information) make it broadly applicable (by humans).

So an advantage of my definition of Informatics with respect to your "the subfield of mathematics that is concerned with computation" is that my definition includes all practical matters that do not fit a mathematical definition. Compilers, for example, transform data (and thus informations) to another data bundle that can be executed.

So are operating systems and so on.

The goal of the article is not to pose like I had the keys to the world formula.

I just want people understand how important is to learn programming and debugging.

Computers are simple machines and they are surely simpler than "the interplay that goes into forming reality", but software debugging is a product of such interplay too!
And it's really something that requires a deep understanding of the work and goals of people spread across the continents!

The article is also very Political: it's a call to action with the hope to change how developers code programs.

Now I really need to go to sleep... see you soon!

re: about informatics, long 

@Shamar I think I see your point, but I still don't agree.

The argument about the difference between journalism and programming is pretty weak. Sure, employed journalists might not be able to write whatever they want for the newspaper they work for but the same is the case for programmers. They only get to write the code their employers ask for. Oftentimes, that code is even really harmful, which most newspaper articles aren't.

I do not agree at all that mathematics and programming are the only subfields of your "Informatics". For example, linguistics is very much about how information is transformed into data and back. Same for social studies (I'm not sure about the proper English term for this, sorry) which is about how information spreads through society. Dance and poetry cover information as well. They are concerned with turning special information (sentiments, moods) into data in such a way that it can be converted back as "lossless" as possible.

Overall, I find the "programming will save the world" attitude to be very sad. Of course, yours isn't as bad as that championed by Silicon Valley startups, but it's also not much better. It's essentially just saying "Look at me, king programmer! You should all strive to be like me because the world only revolves around data and information.". I do agree that learning programming can be helpful, but I don't think that a world in which everybody could code would be much better than ours (probably even worse in some aspects).

re: about informatics, long 


Well, probably the main difference between journalism and programming is that confusing the reader is not an option for programmers.
At least, there is an interpreter that (sooner or later) is VERY picky and logical. Also the same interpreter turns your text into physical effects, which means that programmers power is more "efficient", in a way (at least for some goals), but also more harmful, as you say.

For sure (at least in my vision) cover too: I used Math to explain how wide is its reach, but I didn't intend to artificially restrict it.

I don't agree that social sciences belong to Informatics because their interest matter are communities, not Information.
However you are right that there are some important interactions between the two, much like between and .

As for poetry and dance your objection is deeper than I thought. Thanks for it! 😄

Actually I studied Poetry for a while when I was young. And I'm a self-taught pianist.

There are actually parts, like metrics and rhytm, that are fully included in the definition of Informatics.
But again I'd say that , and USE (an intuitive form of) Informatics but cannot be included into such field.

The fundamental value of Poetry (and Music and Dance) is Beauty, not Curiosity.

Yet I have to admit that Poets use their intuitive insight of Informatics to try to convey exactly those insights that I think cannot be transferred (and thus I do not include in the definition of Information).

The problem is that Poetry doesn't really convey the Idea, but make it resound inside those who already have it.

I can't transfer to you my feeling of God, for example. But if you feel God in the same way, you might recognise a piece of poetry about it.
Same for other experience like Love, Fear and so on. You can't convey the desire for, say, the woman/man/whatever you love to a kid whose mind have never felt the effects of hormones.
There is not really an information transfer (lossless or not): by listening music people rediscover insight they already have through the specific channel that the specific art provides.

So I still think that Poetry, Music, Dance and in general USE and to some extend SPECIALIZE Informatics for their needs, but are not part of Informatics.

And obviously, you CAN mix the specifics of an Art with an actual transfer of Information, eg by writing a poem about an abuse you don't just reproduce your feelings in the reader but transfer actual information through it.
This doesn't falsify my definition though, it just means that Art can use Informatics. Which is actually quite evident in real world with Arduino, for example.

As for the "attitude" your objection is very interesting.

The point of my article is not that Informatics will save the world, but that like it or not, it will change it very deeply. So much that it could actually produce an evolutive fork of our specie.

The point is: if Informatics is so general so powerful and so political, CAN people ignore it?

Right now there is an ongoing World Cybernetic War, and yet most people can't see it for most of time (except when some equivalent of an atomic detonation occurs).

It's a Democratic approach opposed to the Totalitarian approaches of China and USA.

Do you think it's a worthless fight? Or that we have an alternative to preserve our Democracy? If so which one?

Do you think there something I can do to clarify this message more?

None of the above are rhetorical questions: if there are alternatives I missed, do not assume I discarded them... I didn't saw any!

re: about informatics, long 

@Shamar Your distinctions between Informatics and non-Informatics still seem very arbitrary to me. To me this feels like you're on the one hand defining something that's super broad so you can point at anything you deem relevant and go "This is subject to Informatics!" and at the same time excluding everything that you don't want to be part of it, regardless of whether that makes sense. I still fail to see how mathematics is more "about" information than poetry.

As for political systems, I don't have a handy solution to give you. However, I don't believe that everyone learning to code will make things much better. The only thing that will fundamentally improve the world is radically changing how we treat each other and our environment. Computers have nothing to do with that.

re: about informatics, long 


Poetry is about Beauty.

A poet that discuss how to use metric to convey a feeling is not doing poetry, but Informatics.
But if that is all he does, he is not a poet at all.
On the other hand a poet might never discuss these technicalities and write great poetry (think about Emily Dickinson).

That's why Poetry can use Informatics (as it use Linguistics) but is not "about" it.

As for the Political aspect, I think something went loss in translation.

Computers are totally secondary to Informatics. They are literally like telescopes for Astronomy. Or abacus for Mathematics. Or paper for Poetry.

are just mirrors for our minds.

Learning to program (not just to code) and debug (not just to program) is a way to learn Rationality and Critical Thinking (and actually also a lot of humility, once you realize how many errors you do).

Rationality and Critical Thinking are tools. They are not enough to save the world but if they are not available to everyone, but only to few people, the world will become worse and worse.

That's why I think we need to teach them everybody, just like reading and writing.

Because if we don't turn them to well known creativity tools, if we don't turn them to tools of , they will become (stay) tools of .

As I want people to be free, I want to give them these powerful tool we have.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
Qoto Mastodon

QOTO: Question Others to Teach Ourselves. A STEM-oriented instance.

An inclusive free speech instance.
All cultures and opinions welcome.
Explicit hate speech and harassment strictly forbidden.
We federate with all servers: we don't block any servers.