The data in the carrots

Some authors argue that the term “computational intelligence” is a misnomer because computing machines can only process data and not information that has semantic meaning. This is a common mistake…

that results from ignoring the specific human features that participate in defining the information computers are expected to process.

The information value of data does not depend on what type of processing (organic or computational) is carried out; it is derived from the existential attributes of the device that uses it.

Depending on their individual needs and purpose, what is only data for a computing device may also be information for a human device and vice versa. Here is a story about this:

Albert, a municipal clerk living in Baton-Rouge, has three pets: a cat, a rabbit and a robotic vacuum cleaner that can plug itself in electrical outlets to recharge. Coming back from work, Albert buys a bunch of carrots and some other groceries. As he enters his apartment he says: “Hello pets“; then, as they watch, he drops his bag of groceries in front of the kitchen’s electrical outlet, takes out the bunch of carrots and places it on the counter. All three pets acquire that data through their eyes and sensors.

There is more food in the kitchen, this is useful information” thinks the rabbit. “I lost a source of energy, this is useful information” computes the robot. The cat yawns and returns to his couch.

Same data; different information.

3 thoughts on “The data in the carrots”

  1. Dear Jean,
    Are you familiar with John Searle’s argument against the possibility of the capacity for consciousness (or at least–or even– intentionality) in digital systems? (I’m referring to his well-known “Chinese Room” argument.) Do you have a response to this argument (as expressed in his paper ‘Minds, Brains, and Programs’)? On what grounds would the content, I lost a source of energy, be content that the vacuum possesses rather than content we attribute to its functional configuration? (Of course this question presumes there is a real distinction here. If merely being disposed to behave as though the way to the plug is blocked is regarded as “thinking that” the way is blocked, then we deny the distinction. But advocates of “first personal point of view” notions of consciousness want to claim that consciousness, and intentionality even, requires something more and other than a mere functional and dispositional account.)

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