Info Capacity| How to Measure the World’s Technological Capacity to Communicate, Store and Compute Information? Part II: Measurement Unit and Conclusions

Martin Hilbert, Priscila López


This is Part II of a two part article that reviews methodological and statistical challenges involved in the quantification of humanity’s technological capacity to communicate, store and compute information. In this Part II we focus on the adequate unit of measurement for quantifying information. Naturally we do this from the perspective of the results of our recent inventory of 60 technological categories between 1986 and 2007, in which we propose an information theoretic measure that approximates the entropy of the source (which we call “optimally compressed bits”). We explain the interpretation, creation, usage, benefits, and limitations of this unit of measurement. A more coherent understanding of information volumes magnitudes starts with a thorough understanding of the methodological choices involved in related inventories. In this sense, the methodological challenges outlined in this article represent an open research agenda. We also discuss statistical lessons learnt in our exercise (which is informed by more than 1,100 sources) in the roughly 300 page long supporting online Appendix that accompanies this article.

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