From Data Processing to Information processing
The Move from Data Processing to
Data processing applications have moved from an batch environment to an interactive end-user environment. The new users are demanding different services from the system: they want more than data; they want information, that is: a pertinent answer to the questions they ask. Systems (hardware and software) should be designed accordingly.
increase in compute power availability and the multiplication of computer
interfaces is not in itself going to help the end users, if anything it will
confuse them even more.
intelligence methods have in their roots the desire to create systems that
behave more intelligently in response to end users. On another hand, research in
cognitive science has shown features of the perception and memorisation
processes in human beings that were unknown just a few years ago.
The recent developments in artificial intelligence and in cognitive science should be integrated in the design of future computer systems.
people associate the word INFORMATION with NEWS or eventually with COMPUTER
APPLICATIONS. But these are limited and very imperfect understandings of
Information started to have a richer meaning when C. Shannon and W. Weaver in 1948 published the Mathematical Theory of Communications (1) But it was L. Brilloin (2) with his interpretation of information as the opposite of entropy, who gave to information theory the status of a general theory.
concept evolved from an engineering content, essentially based on a mechanical
approach, to a broader meaning encompassing the the semantic aspects of the
communications process as well. Information became synonymous with the reduction
of uncertainty of a receiver after the reception of a message.
That generalisation of the concept of information is consistent with a
realistic representation of the interactions of man with his environment (A.
interactions can be described as an quest for information, leading to a better
control of actions in an uncertain universe. This information enables a plan of
action through the construction of models of the environment (even if
unconsciously). This ability to build a model (descriptive or normative), is the
one that differentiate man from other living species.
the enterprise world (whatever the type of human enterprise: business, research
and development, education, medicine, legal and even leisure) the individuals
involved have to face an uncertain environment:
Is this product going to have a market?
Is this experiment leading to some positive
Are the studies preparing these teenagers for
Is that patient going to respond to this new
Is this law applicable to this case?
What type of equipment should I take for that
mountain hike on Sunday?
are situations of uncertainty.
will not expand on this subject any more: information in the sense that has been
exposed, uncertainty reduction, is a fundamental need of human beings,
individuals, or organisations.
Data Processing Syndrome
technologies have a natural tendency to foster the interest of the people who
have to use them. They often become experts at the new tool and tend to forget
the primary reason that drove them to use it.
pervasiveness of data processing applications has amplified this attitude. One
must admit that the mastering of a complex tool is in itself a subject of great
satisfaction. Hence many physicists, chemists, economists or other specialists
who needed the power of a computer for their works became data processing
processing evolved from a means of problem solving to a goal in itself. The
production of data from various inputs only partially contributed to the
information of the end users (Mavor, Kidd, Vaughan)(4). One's
uncertainty is reduced little, if at all, by the quantity of data
produced. Information requires pertinent answers to the end users' questions.
The system complexity resulting from this approach was a positive reinforcement to the designers of data processing systems, finding there a quasi-aesthetic dimension to the application of their computer knowledge. The evolution of APL/360 to APLSV to VSAPL under CMS is an illustration of this phenomenon. APL evolved from a problem-solving language to a data processing system, extremely rich in functions but at the same time less user friendly. (5, 6, 7)
End User Itch
same technological advances made possible the access to computer power to a
different end users population either through interactive terminal systems (TSO,
VSPC, CMS. . . ) or through the use of personal computers. This evolution has
profoundly modified attitudes toward data processing.
users, most of them non-data processing experts, have a very different goal than
the creation of data. They are basically concerned with the acquisition and
creation of information. This is exemplified by the reactions expressed at
end-users' meetings: complaints about reliability (major cause of uncertainty in
job achievements), calls for end-user support groups, calls for tools.
end-users see the system in its totality, from the computer to the terminal.
Hence ease-of-use encompasses all aspects of the system:
terminal hardware, connection to the computer (networking), data entry,
storage and retrieval, and the printing of text and graphics.
requirement for ease-of-use is often the subject of controversy with data
processing professionals, as it is obvious that it inevitably uses more computer
resources, leading to a lesser pure data processing efficiency.
concept of pertinent answer bears fundamental consequences for the design of an
information processing system. Considering that, « People communicate via,
not with, computer systems ». (Branscomb & Thomas) (8) is a giant step
toward this goal. In order to communicate efficiently the sender and the
receiver have to have an adequate channel and a common repertoire. The computer
systems need to be able to respond to these conditions.
repertoire concept can be viewed in a narrow sense as in the OSI definitions of
Document Interface Architecture / Document Content Architecture, but also in the
more general sense of
channel constituted by the system can equally be considered in a very technical
sense, as only subject to physical noises, in a bits-in / bits-out.
measure of quality, but here again it is necessary to consider the computer
system not as a transparent channel but as an active one.
the interactions with the computer, in the present state of development, are a
long way from natural language, where the acquisition of information can be
either voluntary or incidental, where the transmission of information does not
require so much learning of techniques totally foreign to the subject to be
remarks entail a few subsequent ones:
The system must be designed with the counseling of experts in the
specific end-users' various fields, hence using their languages.
The system must be able to learn from interactions with the end users,
evolving with them in such a way that the answers given by the system keep their
Interactions with the computer should require very little learning of
programming, system commands, and other hardware dependent knowledge.
Processes and Information Processing
recent progress in artificial intelligence has come as much from technological
advances in computer science as from progress in the understanding of the human
brain (9). These conversely were by and large made possible by some advanced
computer techniques. (computer analysis of EEG graphs, scanners outputs. . )
fact we can observe a convergence of research in psychology, neurology,
neuro-biology, linguistics, neuro-linguistics and of course artificial
intelligence, around the field of knowledge acquisition and representation.
process studies will be key to the development of the future computer systems,
they will permit the design of systems adapted to interface with the
peculiarities of the human knowledge acquisition process, but also by using in
the computer architecture some of the findings of the cognitive sciences (11),
in the understanding of perception (visual, auditory tactile), information
processing in the brain (13) and memory processes (short and long term ) (14)
will have a direct impact on the design of computer systems from the
workstations hardware to the data base architecture and the communication
acquisition and representation research may also lead to an easier and more
efficient creation of INFORMATION BASES, (15, 16) with incidental or programmed
acquisition of knowledge by the system.
is evident that progress in this type of research is dependant on fundamental
new discoveries which are by nature very difficult to predict. It is not
necessary to wait for new advances in AI or cognitive science to start to take
advantage of some of the techniques and concepts used in these fields.
base inquiry languages and architecture would benefit from answers to questions
like: What does this specific end-user want to know? not any end-user but the
one using the data base now.
would require the system to learn from the interactions with the end-user, to
establish a dynamically updated user profile similar to the one used in
automatic documentation (ITIRC) where a fixed profile is used to extract
periodically papers from a documentation data base. The system should be able to
make inferences based on the direct question asked and the knowledge that it has
of this user.
potential use of AI and cognitive techniques would be in the development of a
better communication of the end-users with the computers, in a language that
would be as close as possible to a natural language.
difficulty of the problem has limited the results in the development of natural
languages as means of interaction with computers.(18)
the trivial observation of the multiplicity of national languages, one must
admit that there is no natural language but several natural languages. Different
social groups have, over time, invented various languages. Furthermore, group
membership is time dependent. The same words used by an engineer at work may
convey a different meaning when used at his bowling club.(19)
fact the intersection of the various repertoires is a very narrow body of basic
concepts. Communication between different social groups is however established
at a level that the statistical analysis of the common parts of their languages
could not explain. This high level of communication is only possible because
human beings have the capacity to learn languages, their repertoire is neither
infinite nor frozen, the participants in a conversation can learn or remember
the elements of language that are not part of their usual repertoire and are
used in the ongoing conversation, usually without having to ask a question.
get back to one of the fundamental aspects of AI: in order to understand a
natural language, the computer system will have to be able to learn the
specifics of that language from interactions with the end-user.
idea of the multiplicity of natural languages is present in the concept of
expert systems where very specialised knowledge areas are addressed in the
specific language of a particular field. I believe that expert systems are not
an interim solution driven by existing technology, even with more powerful
computer systems there will be a fundamental need for them in order to cope with
the diversity of languages.
is possible to envision the integration of many expert systems in a
comprehensive system, but that, in the state of development of AI, is still
languages have another characteristic: they are multimodal, that is that more
than one sensory mode is used in the communication process. We talk and listen
but we also act (make gestures, show drawings, objects, people. . . )and look.
In fact all our senses can be used for communication. Combination of senses
makes the communication process easier, hence the preference for "face to
face" over telephone conversation. But even there we have a multimodal
communication: voice intonation can change the meanings of words.
closer we get to a single modality, the harder the communication process becomes.
We have to introduce a higher level of redundancy in our messages in order to
compensate for the loss of other information normally transferred by the other
behaviour of a person during a phone conversation is illustrative of my purpose:
the person keeps acting with gestures, makes faces, shows on his graph the
problem as if his correspondent was able to see him...
the case of written messages some of the redundancy can be eliminated as the
receiver will be able to look a few lines or pages behind if there is a point
that he does not understand. In a voice only message, the receiver will have to
rely much more on short term memory if the same situation occurs.
surprisingly a voice recorded message may be further apart from a natural
language than a written message, specifically if the written message makes use
of graphical representation.
all cases, perception is an integrative process; both past and present context
are combined with the direct stimulus received by our senses from the
The development of computer languages in the direction of more natural languages, may have to use multimodal communication procedures. Communication with and through computer systems would be enhanced by the use of several and simultaneous modes of input/output, processing and storage.
some day, the computers will be able to react like Proust with his famous
Challenges of Information Processing
basic question remains, will we be able to design computer systems that will
give to the end-users the INFORMATION they are looking for? (21) Will we be able
to minimise the intellectual detour that communication with and through
computers requires today.
These are challenges that the designers of expert systems, natural languages, voice recognition subsystems, and advanced robotics will have to face. (22) I do not believe that these challenges will be met only by technological breakthrough. To a large extent, the solutions will depend on tedious work. Redefining file after file, record after record, field after field will have to take place to create a better knowledge representation of our environment. Better access methods will have to be designed where ease of use will have to be a constant preoccupation.
need for programmers will be phenomenal, but like for foreign languages, one has
to be able to speak of a specific subject in that language in order to
communicate, the pure knowledge of programming languages will be vastly
insufficient. It will be valuable only if this language is used to convey a
specific knowledge, scientific, technical, medical, economic or financial, legal,
sociological or psychological. We will need programmers with some good knowledge
of at least one of the fields mentioned above.
advances and fundamental research will of course have a crucial role to play as
AI machines will need several orders of magnitude more memory and speed than the
present technology provides. We will also need the development of new high
technology interfaces for input-output.
both the laborious development of techniques based on state of the art
technologies and the discovery of new ones will not solve the problems of human
communication through computer based systems. It is only with the cooperation
with the researchers in cognitive science that progress will be achieved.
will require extensive multi-disciplinary researches built around efficient
communication between the various scientific communities in order to avoid the
building, with AI of a modern tower of babel.
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