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(No.17) From Physical World to Information World

On March 12, 2006, at Beijing, the daytime temperature dropped to about minus 5 degrees Celsius. Workers prepared for gardening by sprinkling water on the grass. Because of the cold wind, temperature of the sprayed water dropped during flight and the water froze as soon as it hit the solid surface. The sprinkled water sprayed evenly; however, frozen ice does not increase thickness evenly. After 30 minutes, many small ice columns grew unevenly, as shown in Figure 1. They look like bamboo sprouts. Why did this happen?

Frozen ice poles on the grass (in Beijing)

Fig. 1 Frozen ice poles on the grass (in Beijing)

When water droplets hit ice, they generate 333 joules of heat per gram when they crystallize. The heat is immediately dispersed over a convex surface, but it warms the air slightly over a concave surface. As a result, a projected point accumulates more ice while a concave surface slows its growth and irregularities increase (Figure 2). This type of crystal growth model is well understood.

Crystal growth model

Fig. 2 Crystal growth model

It is important to notice that the physical process is always accompanied by a feedback system. Here, water crystallization always generates heat, which reflects back to the environment (warming); it then affects subsequent crystallization and ice morphology. I will show just two examples in the information world similar to this process:

    1. 1.
    A popular web site attracts a larger audience as its popularity increases.
    1. 2.
    An able employee processes more jobs, which makes him/her more prominent.

Looking back before the Internet, the processing of many documents required massive paper consumption. A capable person often accumulated huge piles of paper, which affected everybody in the office The more capable he or she was, the more paper and energy consumed, and the more the immediate environment was trashed.

A capable worker is a nuisance?

Fig. 3 A capable worker is a nuisance?

This kind of nuisance is not limited to document processing. It is inevitable in the physical world. For example, the most able person in a 10-person department wants 10 times more salary because of having 10-times higher skills. Every organization has its own budget. If that happens, the best person takes the complete personnel budget with nothing left for others. Incapable persons may leave, or they may remain in the organization with less salary; they are the people affected most. This model applies to resource consumption as well the environmental effect among nations.

In our world where the Internet prevails, office space is not a problem for information processing. The most capable person may not be a stressor for nearby employees. With a broadband connection, there is no interference among users.

Information processing in the office means extracting useful information and adding value to the processed result. This is interpreted as "entropy reduction of information." Entropy change always accompanies energy Q. Thermodynamics gives the following law;


where T is the environmental temperature, which we will not mention again.

Extracting useful (not random) information entails an operation to reduce entropy on the information. Then, some finite amount of energy Q is consumed. Actual processing is done by an Information Retrieval engine, which is the invisible computer cluster working at a very low average cost. At the same time, numerous portal sites provide low entropy (well ordered) information. This total cost may not be small, but it is distributed globally. This total energy consumption may not affect our living environment.

These series of networks are maintained at minimal cost, i.e. with low energy. Whatever the volume of information, the physical impact is low. What is the payment model for the job?

Our most common type of payment is with hard currency. Most organizations have a maximum limit on hard currency. Payment biased greatly to a small group affects payment to the majority. Still, the currency value is defined by relative positions among economic zones. No matter how much is in a bank account, it is still a relative value.

There are other types of reward: title, honor, popularity and credibility. These values are defined by the society to which they belong, and require no physical change. Even if only one person is bestowed great honor, others may not be bothered or envious. Rather, a group member of the person receiving the honor may also benefit. As we are prisoner to limited resources, knowledge workers may benefit more from this latter payment model. We call this model the "credibility payment model." Here are some examples:

Mr. A received a special award of 100 points from his company for the excellent results of his work. Adding these points to the 400 points he already had, he qualifies for the "ubiquitous working style" for one year. He is now qualified to use any new office machine at any time, anywhere, for any purpose.

Mr. B was given 1000 special environmental points from the government for his environmental proposal. His award was publicized by mass media and he received a special title, environmental fellow, from his company. Based on his popularity, he started volunteer activities, including lectures, environmental education and training using his free time. His messages are accessible on his home page.

In the information dominant Internet age, I believe the new credibility payment model works better with few side effects if combined with basic hard currency to support our lives.

(Ej, 2006.06)