© 2017 Michael A Hill
Information is a distinct form of energy, just as electricity, magnetism, steam, nuclear, or solar radiation are also alternate forms of energy. To illustrate this, consider that information behaves similarly to other energy types. Many physicists agree that information is conserved, especially at the quantum level. Also, information contains entropy, which is the foundation of Information Theory.* Information flows at the speed of light, but it can also go slower via sound waves or nerve impulses. Like potential and kinetic energy, it converts to magnetic energy for storage on hard drives, and then back to electricity for flipping switches, sending signals, displaying photos, and playing pianos. At each step, information is converted to a different sort of energy, or else the other energy is converted to information. The transformability of information is a property of energy conservation.
A Nontraditional View of Information
In a traditional or classical view, information travels passively as it is carried along by some type of energy wave. In our new perspective, however, a radio or Wi-Fi signal combines two types of energy: electromagnetic and informational. Specific actions modulate and demodulate carrier waves, imprinting and extracting the information. That is, something must be added to the carrier wave in order to send a message, and that something is informational energy. This is true whether we send our messages via cell phone, fiber optics, or smoke signals.
Work and Heat
By definition, energy is the ability to perform work or generate heat. Information fulfills both criteria.
Consider the first case, work: Playing a piano requires work. A player piano powers up but sits idle until the encoded roll begins to turn. Only then, the music plays. Therefore, information performs work.
In the case of heat, suppose you just installed a computer server farm. The wiring is in, the computers are powered up, and the air conditioners are cooling. But the servers sit idle until information starts coming in. Then the air conditioner loads increase in order to dissipate the heat given off by the servers. Therefore, information generates heat.
So what, who cares?
Why does this idea make any difference? Well just for fun, let’s assume that knowledge is accumulated information. Recalling that power is the release rate of stored energy, we should be able to say now with new confidence that “Knowledge Is Power.”
* Information theorists will of course say that information is entropy. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Allowing a subtle paradigm shift here might allow us to get more work done.