This is chapter 4 of the "The Macroscope" by Joël de Rosnay



Information, too, is energy, a particular kind of energy that releases and controls power. The close relationship between energy and information came to light when it was understood that energy had to be spent in order to acquire information and information had to be used in order to collect energy and put it to use. Every bit of information has to be paid for in energy, and every increase in energy must be paid for in information.

Information would have remained a qualitative concept of little interest if it had not become possible to measure precisely the amount of information contained in a message passing through a transmission line. This ability to measure information, achieved in the late 1940s, led to a veritable revolution in mathematics, physics, and electronics. Its impact has been particularly marked in cybernetics, data processing, and telecommunications.

One of the most profitable ways to understand the concept of information and the consequences of the revolution it fostered is to take (as we did for energy) a position that enables us to observe "through the macroscope" the role that information and communications play in society. This leads first to a review of several important points concerning communications, the measurement of information, and the relationship between information and entropy. Then, following a brief history of communications, we shall come to a discussion of the conditions and possible consequences of the appearance of an interactive and participative society founded on telecommunications and what I call "society in real time."


There is a profound difference between matter and form. Matter seems immutable; it conserves its shape and does not change. It is form that changes and modifies itself. This difference in nature was illustrated by Aristotle in his famous example of the brass statue.

Aristotle introduced another distinction of perhaps greater importance

--between the two meanings of the word information. On the one hand, information is understood as "the acquisition of knowledge" (one becomes informed by the act of observing an object or observing nature). On the other hand, information denotes "the ability to organize" or "creative action'' (one informs matter by the act of giving form to an object--as the sculptor does with clay).

For the moment, we can define information simply as the content of a message capable of triggering action. Later we shall consider the more precise definition proposed by the theory of information.

Communication is the exchange and circulation of information in a network that connects transmitters and receivers. Information is sent from a transmitter to a receiver in the form of a message. A message is composed of signals, signs, or symbols assembled according to a code. There are coded messages, communications in Morse code, and hereditary information enclosed in the DNA molecule in the form of the genetic code. An elaborate collection of codes and messages forms a language. A message is coded at its source, then sent by means of a carrier (Fig. 74).

Whatever its nature (radio waves, wires, laser beams), the carrier is called a transmission line or wave. At the other end of this line the message is decoded and transcribed into information that has meaning for the person to whom it is addressed. But in order for the recipient to recognize and use the information, there must already have been information memorized that can be compared with the message just received. A final and important point is that disturbances occurring in the transmission line (the "noise") can alter the message and change its meaning.

Measuring Information

The significance of information varies from individual to individual. The information that it is going to rain will have entirely different effects on a vacationer hoping for sunny days and on a farmer threatened by drought. In its most current sense, information is a new fact, an insight, or knowledge newly gained from observation. Information can be stored in one's memory or in libraries, where it serves to support effective action.

Thus it would seem to be impossible to measure information. In order to do so, all reference to its subject matter would have to be ignored and only the specific form of energy passing through the carrier considered. This particular "information" has a much more restricted sense than current usage assigns to it. But its definition has made it possible to arrive at a quantitative expression that is indispensable to improved communications and the future of data processing.

The measurement of information is the result of a remarkable convergence of independent efforts undertaken in the late 1940s by telecommunications and servomechanisms engineers, by mathematicians, by statistical mechanics theorists, and by physicists. The theory of information ( see notes ) had its beginnings in this work and culminated in Shannon and Weaver's The Mathematical Theory of Communication.

The various researchers had been led, as a result of their experiments and findings, to make a number of concluding observations.

Information that travels along a transmission line degrades in an irreversible manner. In this respect information is analogous to energy, which degrades into entropy. If, for example, one takes the mold of a statue and casts another statue from it, then makes a mold of the second statue and casts a new statue from it, it is quite possible that after twenty such successive operations the form of the final statue will be completely different from that of the first one. Or one may make enlargements from a photographic negative and from them make new prints. The slightest scratch will irreversibly affect the original information.

Energy must be used in order to transmit information. The energy support of information is represented by light radiation, sound waves the electric current in a telephone line, and a bee that carries pollen from flower to flower. As this energy weakens and becomes dispersed, it must be channeled and amplified. Finally, the greater the precision of measurement, the larger will be the amount of energy expended. In order to avoid the degradation of information and improve the quality of transmission, one must first measure the quantity of information contained in a message.

To define properly what a certain quantity of information represents, one must put oneself in the situation of an observer trying to obtain information about a system that he does not understand. This system could be made up of the number of possible answers to a question, the number of solutions to a problem, or simply a pack of cards spread out on a table ( see notes ).

Obtaining information about an unknown system can lead the observer to reduce the number of possible answers. Total information could even lead immediately to the only possible answer: the correct one. Information is therefore a function of the relationship between the number of possible

responses before the reception of the message (P0) and the number of responses possible afterward (P1).

Consider a simple example. The unknown system is a pack of thirty-two cards; what chance is there of drawing a card named in advance? This question introduces an uncertainty, and this uncertainty is measured by a ratio: the number of favorable choices to the number of possible choices. This is called the probability of drawing the correct card. As there is only one favorable choice (the card named), the probability here is one chance in thirty-two.

Now how does one measure the amount of information acquired by drawing a card? Before a card is drawn there are thirty-two possible choices, all with the same probability (P0). After a card has been drawn, two situations are present:

If you have drawn the right card, only one answer is possible and you are holding it in your hand. The amount of information obtained is a function of the ratio 32:1, and the information is total. If you have drawn the wrong card, thirty-one possible responses remain. The amount of information is a function of the ratio 32:31, and the information is partial.

The information obtained in the first situation fully resolves the problem by reducing the number of possible chances to one. In the second situation it diminishes slightly the number of possible chances. Here it reduces the denominator of the fraction P0/P1; thus the ratio increases, and so does the information. This leads us to conclude that information increases when uncertainty diminishes--because uncertainty indicates the lack of information that one has of an unknown system.

Finally, in order to measure information and define unities, one can adopt two conventions. One can choose to define information in a subtractive way rather than by a ratio, since information is the difference between two uncertainties (before the message and after). For the ratio P0/P1 one substitutes a subtraction of the logarithm.[1] The second convention involves the most convenient and the most used code for sending a message, the two signs 0 and 1, which can also stand for yes and no. This leads to the adoption of the binary language and logarithms of base 2. Applying these conventions, the amount of information in a message is measured in "bits" (an abbreviation of binary digits).

Now we can answer the question, what is the amount of information acquired by drawing a card? The amount is 5 bits (in base 2, the logarithm of 32 is 5, or 32 = 25).

Thus information seems like an abstract entity, objective, devoid of human meaning. It is easier to represent a given amount of information by comparing it to material units circulating in a conduit, like molecules of water in a pipe. The capacity of the pipe is limited by its size, and the same is true of a transmission line. Some lines--a standard telephone line, for example--cannot carry more than 1,200 bits per second. This amount of information is entirely independent of the significance of the message, which could be a song, racing results, or stock market quotations.

Information and Entropy

Any information that results from an observation, a measurement, or an experiment, and that tells us only what we already know, produces no change in the number of possible responses; it does not diminish our uncertainty. The lower the probability that a message or an event will occur, the greater is the information carried by that message. The information obtained by drawing the correct response the first time (I = 32/1) is the inverse of the probability of obtaining this response before the drawing is made, or before the message is received (P = 1/32). Probability and entropy are related by statistical theory (see p. 102). By bringing together the different mathematical expressions, we can see that information is the inverse of the entropy of the physicists- it is the equivalent of an antientropy. The term neguentropy, negative entropy, has been proposed to identify this important property. Information and neguentropy are therefore the equivalents of potential energy.

The alliance goes further. By choosing suitable constants and values one can express information in thermodynamic units and relate it directly to entropy. We can then calculate the smallest expense of energy needed to generate one bit of information. To obtain an amount of information equal to one bit, we must degrade in entropy a very low but finite and therefore significant quantity of the energy of the universe.

This important finding has led physicists like Leon Brillouin to generalize Carnot's principle in such a way as to express the indissoluble relationship that exists between information acquired by the brain and the variation of entropy in the universe: Every acquisition of knowledge based on an observation or a physical measurement obtained with the help of an instrument uses energy in the laboratory--and therefore some of the energy of the universe.[2]

Consider an example. The reading of this page involves several elements: the text (printed in black on the paper) ( see notes ), a source of light (natural

or artificial), the eye, and the brain. The lamp is the source of neguentropy. It emits a flow of light that is refracted on the succession of black and white segments of the printed words and modulates the light beam that strikes the eye. The eye receives the message and the brain decodes and interprets it. Thus the reader's brain has acquired information. But this must be paid for in energy: the watts of the lamp in exchange for the 24,000 bits of information on the printed page.

The History of Communications

The history of communications begins at the molecular level. A large part of the information on which communications between molecules depends is built into their shape, their principal support of signals, codes, and messages. Molecules are "information individuals" who carry, inscribed in their morphology, what they are, what they do, what they know, and what "memory" they have that enables them to "recognize" other forms.

The cell maintains its organization, its complexity, and its coordination by means of a complicated network of intermolecular communications. The enzymes, situated at the nodes of these networks, screen the molecules and control the flows of information, thereby permitting the rapidity and efficiency of the fundamental reactions of life.

The DNA molecule, the support of genetic information, illustrates perhaps better than any other biomolecule the basic principles of communication. (In recounting its role, we italicize those terms common to biologists and communications engineers.) Genetic information is stored in the form of a molecular code. It is transcribed in RNA molecules, the carrier that transports copies of this information from the nucleus to the cell. By the action of ribosomes and molecules of transfer RNA, the information is translated into protein molecules. With an "alphabet" of twenty amino acids, the cell manufactures thousands of different proteins in the same way that we compose thousands of different sentences with the twenty-six letters of our alphabet. During the replication of DNA molecules, disturbances from the environment (the noise on the transmission line) introduce "errors" that change the meaning of the messages; these modifications are mutations.

Chemical communication by means of the shape of molecules is the oldest system of communication used by living systems. The molecule signals are not only responsible for control and regulation of internal activities of the cell; they cross the membrane, circulate in the neighboring milieu, and send signals to other cells. The behavior of bacteria, yeast, algae, and protozoa depends on the chemical messages they exchange among themselves or with the environment. Microorganisms know how to recognize and avoid poisons and how to guide themselves toward

nutrients. When a blood cell under the microscope is suddenly killed by a laser beam, one sees the freed chemical substances immediately attract white cells, which rush toward the dead cell in order to absorb it.

Certain cells living in cultures in vitro synchronize their activities their movements, and their pulsations through the emission of chemical substances that act as coordinating signals (this is seen in a spectacular way in cultures of heart cells). And more advanced means of communication already occur in unicellular organisms. Numerous microorganisms capable of photosynthesis have a "visual spot" made up of light-sensitive molecules--virtually a primitive eye--that enables them to move toward a source of light. Little muscular fibers move vibrating ciliae, which are generators of movement and thus a means of communication. In most cells there are microtubules that resemble the pipes and channels found everywhere in nature and through which liquids and materials pass.

The integration and differentiation of the cells of the tissues and organs at the heart of the organism lead to the diversification of means of communication. The support of genetic information and the coordination of communication and cellular regulation rests with DNA and its performing agents, the enzymes. But when a short response time is required, internal and external communication are achieved through the nervous system and the hormones ( see page 41 ), which permit rapid reactions to stimuli from the environment.

Chemical communication has its ways, too. Odors given off by insects and animals, toxic products, poisons, venoms, plant alkaloids, the scents of plants--especially flowers--guarantee the regulation of natural equilibriums and the maintenance of the entire organization. The power of pheromone, a chemical substance used by insects for communication, is so strong that a single molecule picked up more than half a mile away by the antennae of the silkworm butterfly will lead it to the female.

With vision and hearing comes an explosive diversity of communication. In a world bright and variegated with flowers, fish, the plumage of birds, and the coats of animals, one hears the responsive songs, cries, and calls. A multitude of phosphorescent spots illuminate the depths of the oceans and the darkness of the night. Each sign has a precise meaning in a given environment; this is a form of social communication.

Among the more highly evolved animals, auditory, visual, and olfactory communication can be expanded through posture, the position of the limbs, and in primates facial expression. The marking out of a territory by odors--a very old form of communication--or by touch (the rubbing together of insect antennae, delousing among monkeys) emphasizes the effects of other forms of communication and helps to increase the variety and stability of the different ecological niches.

Communication between human beings must be considered separately because of the importance of language. This does not mean that man is excluded from using nonverbal--visual, olfactory, tactile--forms of communication; essentially animal forms of expression, they can set in motion an infinite variety of behavior patterns. But technical and social progress is founded mainly on the creative power of language and the logical thought that derives from it.

The major phases of communications development have followed an accelerated pace from the drawings of prehistoric man to papyrus manuscripts and to electronic impulses and television. For the speed of evolution has depended increasingly on fluid, adaptable, "nonmaterial" systems such as printing and now electronics. Following the appearance of language and the generalization of the oral tradition, the advent of writing allowed information to be expanded and stored at small energy cost. The practice of copying manuscripts, the invention of printing, and the creation of libraries exteriorized one of the principal functions of the human brain--memory--by freeing the prodigious power of the amplification of information. One characteristic of every social organization is to achieve--in as short a time as possible in proportion to the organization's complexity--the multiplication and spread of the total mass of existing information, with as little energy cost as possible.

The true telecommunications explosion began when man learned to code and transmit information by wire or high-frequency waves. With the telegraph and the telephone, radio and television, sound and image conquered oceans and mountains, encircled the globe, and reunited men in the "global village" so dear to Marshall McLuhan ( see notes ). The letter, the telephone, and the shortwave radio allowed only bilateral communication or, at best, communication among small groups. Radio, television, newspapers, and magazines reach a large number of individuals, but those people are deprived of the feedback control of information.

In the "global village" communication no longer depends solely on written, spoken, or audiovisual information. There is a world of signs and symbols of infinite complexity, and the strength of their messages is as real as the printed word or the televised picture. Dress, social behavior, the signs of the purchase and ownership of material goods such as a car or a home, and art, music, and sports, too, are means of communication that can assure the integration and the complementary differentiation of the individuals within a social organization.

Today, in the linking of computers and telecommunications networks, we are witnessing the assembly of a veritable public utility for information. Such a network will represent the most elaborate stage of the integration of the various systems of communication from the molecule signals of the bacteria to the nervous systems of man and society.

The foregoing "natural history" of the role of information and communications in biological systems and animal and human societies necessarily leads us to the question of the next step in the evolution of communications. Will the planetary system under construction be the "nervous system" of our societies? Will it be the material support of the noosphere, the sphere of the mind that Teilhard de Chardin saw as the successor o the biosphere, the sphere of life?

One process appears to be irreversibly active in most developed countries: the increasingly closer integration of the human brain, telecommunications systems, and the computer. This process, if it continues, may well be the support of a new form of social organization. Will it be an interactive and participative society that respects individual initiative and the pluralism of ideas? Or will it be a caricature of society approaching that described by Orwell in 1984?

The speed of evolution and the impact of telecommunications systems are such that it seems to me useful to discuss now the conditions and the consequences of the possible future of a new form of social organization, "society in real time." ( see notes )

The expression "real time" comes from the vocabulary of computer programmers. We say that a dialogue or an interaction (between man and computer, for example) develops in real time when the information coming from the environment is treated as it arrives. This idea can be generalized: every action that involves decisions and deadlines happens in real time when the information that is the basis for the decisions reaches the decision centers before the deadlines. The standard "real time" is the maximum time allowed so that information involving a decision can reach a receiver before the decision is made.

This maximum time varies considerably: several microseconds in the case of a computer controlling the release of a rocket; several seconds or several minutes in the control of assembly lines in an automated factory; several months in the case of social systems. In daily life the concept of real time is linked to concepts of interaction with other persons or with machines. Interaction makes possible the immediate reception of information or signals (movements, facial expressions, intonations of the voice) by which behavior and decisions are modified. The concept of real time is also linked to that of "live" events presented by radio and television broadcasts, which allow participation in far-off events.

Descending and Ascending Information

The birth of society in real time will result from the evolution of two complementary forms of communications systems. One of these evolutions is at a more advanced stage than the other, and this creates an

imbalance whose sometimes dramatic results are now being felt.

The two evolutions involve the continuation in society of two fundamental actions of the individual conscience: observation (acquiring knowledge, informing oneself) and creative action (organizing the world, informing matter). In the first case, all acquisition of knowledge is counterbalanced by an increase in entropy in the universe. In the second case, all creation of new information by the human brain contributes to a decrease in entropy locally. Daily experience shows that the first mode of activity is considered easy, requiring little effort; the second is considered more difficult, more demanding.

In a similar way, society has endowed itself with a system of communications based on the rapid dissemination of information. From the top of the pyramid that is the form of every social organization down to its base, there is a system of descending information.

This system represents the large-scale transposition of the act of observation or the acquisition of information by the brain. It is given form by the well-known mass media (books, newspapers, radio, cinema, and television), which carry descending information to all parts of the earth. Its evolution has been rapid and its activity explosive, for the copying and distribution of information can be done on a grand scale at a minimum energy cost.

The other system of communication has only gradually been put to work. Still far from achieving the effectiveness of the first system the second system is principally one of sending information back to decision or broadcasting centers. This is ascending information: individual actions and personal participation or contributions to the functioning of an organisation or the greater social system. It is the transposition to the collective plan of creative action that each person performs at his own level.

This system (we call it ascending for symmetry) is made up of all the everyday forms of representation and participation in the life of society: the vote, elected representatives, political parties, production committees, labor unions, consumer institutes, public opinion polls. This is the "response" of individual members of society to politics, to government programs, to the management of a company, to the mass of goods and services provided by industry.

The slow pace of its operation can be explained by the high price that one must pay in information (the education required at every level) so that each individual can participate effectively in the organization and development of society. Every creation of a new organization (the equivalent of potential energy known as neguentropy) must be counterbalanced by a significant expense of information (Fig. 75).

In addition to the systems of descending and ascending information there is the entire network of horizontal communications, from person to person or from person to machine--first by means of mail and the telephone, then with the interactive electronic systems that are just coming into their own. The integration of these three systems of communication provides a rough sketch of the infrastructure of society in real time.[3]


The technology of communications is well known and readily available. It has arrived at a stage of development, especially in the United States, where it is possible to talk about the coming of a public utility for information, the embryo of society in real time. As a complement to other largescale public utilities for energy and transportation, the new information utility will probably have a more significant impact on the organization of society.

Yet the real problems are not technical; they are politica and economic problems. We have no idea of the wide-ranging consequences of an expansion of the contacts and interactions in real time among the inhabitants of a country, in their homes or at their places of work. We have no idea of the effects of their selective access to information--to cultural activities or to entertainment. Who has been able to measure the social and economic impact of the telephone? How could we foresee the impact of computerized information and communications systems on transportation and travel, on the organization of large cities, on the working habits of the population, and on education? Will an "interactive" society lead to the sense of participation of its citizens? Without receiving prompt feedback within a reasonable period of time as a response to his actions, an individual loses all feeling of participation in the operation of the system to which he belongs; he tends to become passive and disinterested in the organization on which he depends. One of the forms of "social malaise" can be described, as Jacques Attali has said, as the feeling of being left our of power that is felt by every citizen deprived of a real means of participating.

We must no longer let ourselves be carried away by the perspectives that communications technology has opened up. A computer terminaliIn the home or interactive networks of cable television will be expensive and it is not certain that they are necessary or even wanted. Will the social cost be justified? How can we distinguish, in the maze of electronic gadgets constructed by telecommunications engineers, those that will have real advantages for society and the individual?

One of the major differences between the time in which we live and that of the great technical breakthroughs of the first half of the twentieth century is that we do not have to endure the effects of poorly planned and controlled technology. We are now able, perhaps for the first time to prepare--with full hearings--for the introduction of new technologies into our lives in a manner that is in the best interests of man and society.

Another difference is that instead of serving prestigious operations undertaken for political ends, communications technology can render immediate service to all citizens in a form that they will be able to understand and appreciate. But once they have decided to accept the installation of such networks in principle, will they be ready to assume the costs?

When the means of communication are installed, their services will expand. The more the services expand, the less the operating cost of the network will increase. Yet no service will expand at too high a cost once the network is installed. Again we are trapped in a vicious circle: which should come first, the telecommunications network or the service that makes use of it? We might say both at once, first in an embryonic way, then in a more complex way as a result of continuing evolution. Political desire, public pressure, or the urgency of a situation can accelerate the process. For the moment none of these services can be justified on economic grounds alone, yet we sense that their coming is inevitable.

There is as much promise as there are dangers in the advent of public information utilities. There is the promise of a more humane society one that is less centralized, that will bring people together and profit from their interactions. At the same time there are the dangers of mass manipulation, of the infringement of individual privacy, of a new form of social inequality based on preferential access to information. To measure the magnitude of the revolution that is brewing and its potential impact on our daily lives, we must consider now the technical support of the new communications systems and above all the services that rely on the networks of descending and interpersonal information. Then we shall consider the problems posed by ascending information, the support of participation in real time.

Communications Hardware

Knowledge is power, the proverb reminds us. Heretofore the control of information--and hence a share of power--has been in the hands of small political groups and private businesses ( see notes ). Now modern communications technology in theory offers the possibility of a complete redistribution of power. For the first time, information carried by the transmission lines can be controlled by the receiver rather than by the source.

To understand this unprecedented change and its social repercussions, one must compare present-day communications technology with that which would replace it in society in real time. The principal forms of the mass media today fall into two large groups: the storage media for texts, images, and sounds (books, newspapers, films, recordings) and the transmission media (radio, television, telephone).

Closely related to the storage media are the powerful duplication media, which allow the production of large numbers of copies of books and newspapers, and the distribution networks (bookstores, newsstands, cinemas, record shops). Information can be delivered to homes by mail subscription as well.

Radio and television, the transmission media, also act as duplication media by sending the same information simultaneously to a large number of people. They make it possible to transmit and broadcast audiovisual storage media--records on radio, films on television. However, the selection of programs and the hours of broadcasting remain under the control of the source.

The only primary large-scale transmission medium controlled by users is the telephone, but it is not generally linked to the mass storage media. Like the other interactive media--letters and shortwave radio, but not the new citizens' band network--it allows only bilateral communication. One of the few opportunities the user has to exercise direct control over transmission from storage media is to go to a bookstore or a newsstand and select a book or magazine.

The situation is entirely different with the new electronic storage and transmission media. These systems have an electronic or computerized data bank, a transmission network, and computer terminals in the users' homes for selective access to information. The data banks are either magnetic disks containing up to 800 billion bits of information (the equivalent of l00,000 books of 400 pages) or microfilms stored in an access system that can be controlled by computer.

The transmission networks use telephone lines or cable television, and their impact is directly related to their transmission capacity. What are their limits? Consider some examples of transmission range.

One page of this book contains about 3,000 characters or 24,000 bits

of information. A fast reader can read this page in a minute at a rate of 500 words per minute or about 400 bits per second. In comparison, the capacity of a telegraphic transmission line is about 75 bits per second. A telephone line carries an average of l,200 bits and as much as 9,600 bits per second. If the information is transmitted in digital form, 60,000 bits per second can be sent.

The newest communication systems are the microwave transmission networks and the coaxial cable. Using relay antennas, a microwave transmission network can carry as many as l00 telephone communications simultaneously at a speed of 70 million bits per second. Services using these networks are already connected, with banks, hotels, airline reservations agents, and computer services. The coaxial cable, built around a conductor in a hollow tube, can carry l0,000 telephone communications and 700 billion bits per second. As the basis of cable television, this network creates "wired cities," connecting users and relay stations and ensuring two-way information between subscribers and central stations and among the subscribers themselves (Fig. 76).

Communications technology has still other systems in reserve--satellites, wave guides, and optic wave guides using laser beams. The wave guide is a hollow tube in which 250,000 telephone conversations can travel simultaneously--a flow of information of 15 million bits per second. The theoretical capacity of the laser reaches tens of millions of simultaneous communications; it will probably surpass all present and future needs of society ( see notes ).

Today the most common terminals found in homes are the telephone and the television set Their newest versions include the touch telephone which allows communication with computers, and the videotelephone and interactive cable television, which are competitive systems.

In the future the communications terminal in the home will probably look like a combination of television set, telephone, and teletype. It will function at the same time as a library, a news magazine, a mail-order catalogue, a postal service, a classroom, a theater, and a telephone inquiry service. Time-sharing computers connected to transmission networks will ensure the selection of information, the control of communications between subscribers, and the storage of information in data banks (Fig. 77).

Such systems of electronic storage and transmission in real time do not yet exist on a nationwide scale. But they are functioning now in such subsystems as universities, research centers, large industries, administrative and financial agencies, government agencies, and international scientific organizations. The commencement of their large-scale operation will probably depend on cooperation between cable television companies and time-sharing computer companies.

Services in Real Time

The wired city is becoming a reality. There will be 30 million homes in the United States in 1980 that will have cable television. In France new cities like Créteil and Cergy-Pontoise will be "wired." In fact all cities are already wired with electricity and telephone lines. The coaxial television cable, because of its two-way capability for transmitting information, opens the way to a new era of services ( see notes ). And there is more

than cable television; the interaction among network subscribers and between subscribers and central stations can be as readily accomplished by expanding the telephone network and using videotelephones.

Without distinguishing between the various specific uses of cable television and videotelephone systems, one can still offer a glimpse of the kinds of services that society in real time will be able to offer. In describing them now as though they already existed, I am also raising the question, is this what we want for tomorrow?

Selective access to information. Any subscriber to cable television has the same advantage: a turn of the knob permits the choice of forty channels. Another service lets one communicate by touch telephone with a computer at a central station and call for the news or programs that one wants from a television station.

Subscribers at home can also request information from data banks, whose contents are then presented visually in graphs, photos, and films. Subscribers have instant access to legal, administrative, financial, and technical information and sports data. They can go through archives and study rare documents; they can visit museums and exhibitions.

Doctors and engineers who subscribe to selective information dissemination services are alerted to the appearance of publications in their area of interest. A custom-made newspaper that corresponds to the profile of interest of the subscriber is delivered to his home. Thus information becomes more useful, more varied, more individualized.

Visual communication. Communication by videotelephone clearly goes beyond the simple amusement of seeing one's correspondent on the screen. Conferences can be held between several people separated by distances of hundreds of miles. Relatives can "visit" patients in hospitals or prisoners in jails. Students can attend lectures or special courses. Doctors can examine their patients as they consult their medical files (x-rays, electrocardiograms, encephalograms, histologies). Lawyers and legal, financial, and technical advisors can work with their clients over the same files. Private conversations can be held with marriage and family planning counselors. Businesses can conduct preliminary interviews with job candidates. News editors and reporters, copyeditors and authors can work together on layout and editing.

When linked with computers, the visual communications network will offer an expanded range of services, including computer-assisted instruction in which tests, problems, and exercises are the framework of a more individualized instruction. The management in real time of bank accounts has become necessary because there are now systems of payment that do not involve checks or cash. The bank's computer answers questions by displaying its response on a television screen or "talking" on the telephone.

Interpersonal communication. Information on the most diverse fields-- for which there is supply and demand--is stored in data banks and kept up to date as subscribers communicate new information. As if in a kind of electronic classified advertising service, the computer compares the characteristics of each offer and each request and puts the appropriate parties in touch. This is the computer matching system; it brings together ideas, situations, and interests.

In place of impersonal and inefficient mass contact, selective matching modifies the quality of personal relations by increasing the probability of cross-fertilization of ideas, the comparison of original efforts, and the mobility of people and ideas. Computer matching has direct application in school, university, and vocational guidance, in employment agencies that embrace several cities, and in transfers of technology between nations.

Putting people in touch through selective matching can lead to a better rate of utilization of common goods. People working in the same area of the city and living near one another can use the same car to get to and from work. Computerized car pools have had varying degrees of success in the United States and in Europe, depending on the area. Yet the advantages of this simple idea are obvious; it could well be extended to other fields.

In the more distant future, network subscribers will be able to communicate through decentralized data banks accessible to all. These banks will store publications, employment and product offers, and ideas. Every individual will be able to explore the bank selectively; when he finds what he wants, he will be put in contact with those whose ideas, tastes, or activities match his own.

Control of the city's functions. With interactive networks, the city becomes more and more like a living organism. The wired city assures its residents of protection against fire and theft, for fire detectors and burglar alarms are linked directly to surveillance and emergency services by coaxial cable. Gas and electricity services will take their meter readings directly from the home. The police will be able to hold lines of suspects, compare fingerprints, and study stolen cars and other objects at distant locations. Detectors and television cameras placed along roads and at intersections will report to computers the necessary information for controlling city and highway traffic in real time. The automation of traffic lights and alternate routes in the event of tie-ups or bad weather conditions will ensure an improved flow of traffic. Automatic identification of moving vehicles in certain zones will make it possible to provide traffic information and to control traffic lights in order to allow emergency vehicles the right of way.

Even the miniature communication systems dear to science fiction

writers have become a reality. Private cars already have radiotelephones; in some countries there are methods of locating and paging people by beeps--a system first used to contact doctors in emergency cases. These systems function not only within large organizations but as Nation-wide Paging Systems. Instantaneous person-to-person communication by means of a wristwatch transmitter-receiver is technically feasible, even at great distances.

The dialogue between computers. Computer networks are being connected with one another. The ARPA network joins the computers of thirty American universities with the help of small computers capable of translation in real time. Veritable "ganglions" at the nodes of a nervous system, they make possible the translation of messages from one computer language to another. This network now extends to European computers, giving them virtually instantaneous access to all the libraries of specialized programs now in operation on the campuses of thirty American universities.

Teleconferences, already widespread since they are offered as a supplementary service by telephone companies, will now benefit by the interconnection with computers. The Institute for the Future in the United States has developed a system (FORUM) that allows experts to communicate in real time or in delayed time with other experts on a given subject. All benefit from the computers' information-processing capabilities and from the specialized information stored in their data banks.

Social Impact of Services in Real Time

Over the past ten years one of the favorite topics of the futurists has been the potential of new communication systems to substitute for human travel ( see notes ). To move information through wires instead of moving people over highways appears to be more efficient: it saves energy as well as time.

Few studies have been made of the relationship between transportation and communication, but the energy crises have given the matter high priority. A reduction in the amount of professional travel and the daily commuting of city dwellers would not only cut down on fuel consumption, it would reduce pollution, noise, and tension in large cities. Even if this substitution affected only 18 percent of the travel in a city (as shown in studies made in 1972), it would have considerable influence on living conditions in the large metropolises.

This does not mean that we are headed for a society in which people travel only for pleasure or leisure. Some kinds of work will always require travel. It is difficult to imagine a chef preparing meals or a barber giving a haircut by closed-circuit television. Similarly, one cannot participate

in sports, acquire a suntan, or breathe the forest air by using a video telephone (fortunately!). On the other hand, practically everything done in an office--reading, writing, dictating notes or correspondence, telephoning, attending meetings--could be done from one's home. True, nothing can replace personal contact, and nothing will prevent occasional traveling to call on a customer, to sign a contract, to visit a factory, or to evaluate people.

The bulk of the communications that constitute business life will be carried on more and more by means of videotelephone networks, cable television, and teleconferences. Calculations made at Cornell University in 1973 and cited by Edward N. Dickson in a report on the impact of the videotelephone attempt to evaluate its costs compared to those of travel and electronic communication.

In a time of energy crises these comparisons are very interesting. Eight hours of transatlantic travel in a Boeing 747 for the purpose of meeting someone personally uses eight times more energy than a videotelephone conversation of the same duration. For short distances, the energy in five liters of gasoline can fuel a car for about 30 miles or provide 66 hours of uninterrupted videotelephone conversation. At present the substitution of the videotelephone for travel holds no interest on economic grounds, but telecommunications specialists agree that in the long run travel will become less efficient and more costly. The continuing replacement of some kinds of travel by electronic communications will probably have a pronounced effect on the organization of large cities. As a result of decentralization, the metropolises will split up into villagelike communities whose inhabitants will work at home. Such an evolution will lead to a "new rural society."

Society in real time will witness a revolution in education. Through selective matching and person-to-person communication, people of all ages and all social levels will be able to benefit from individualized education.

Interactive networks will bring about further developments in service activities. Industrial civilization is founded on the principle of mass production; the beginnings of informational civilization, however, rest on selective production and destandardization. The success of products made by craftsmen and the number of magazines produced for small special interest groups are harbingers. Bringing people together by means of visual communication will lead to the creation of a multitude of new services and accelerate the "dematerializing" of the economy that is already under way.[4]


One of the most important advantages of the new electronic information systems is the possibility of the feedback of information to decision centers ( see notes ). Without feedback loops there can be no efficient participation, no interactive society.

The feedback of information at all levels of the social organization (businesses, cities, states, governments) represents a great loop of cybernetic control that I call social feedback.

Without control loops a social system under "direct command" is nothing more than a dictatorship; only with the installation of control loops can the system evolve toward democracy. Today the effectiveness of regulatory systems and traditional participation--and above all, the length of their response time--does not satisfy the demands of a rapidly growing society.

The oldest forms of social feedback are probably the applause and the catcalls of a crowd, but the most widely used form is clearly the vote. We all know the limitations and weaknesses of the vote: discontinuous participation, delays in tabulation, excessive simplification of choices, the inability to translate the intensity of individual opinions. Yet in spite of these imperfections the vote remains the basis of participation in democratic societies.

There are other forms of social feedback ( see notes ). The market price of goods and services is the support for a kind of continuous vote represented by the vast numbers of transactions between buyer and seller. In making a purchase a consumer indicates a choice, just as he does in voting. The power of a boycott of certain products and voluntary restraints on buying during times of shortage illustrate the "macroscopic" effect of a mass of individual actions.

The stock exchange is another system of participation in real time. Each order to buy or sell is a sort of vote that modifies the market price and has consequences for the management of numerous businesses, for financial houses, and eventually for a multitude of workers.

Political leaders, labor leaders, industrialists, newspaper owners, producers of television programs, and directors of advertising agencies have long been trying to learn what people think, to anticipate their reactions, and to satisfy the needs and desires of the population. The suggestion boxes that industrialists place in company cafeterias, the letters to the editor in newspapers, the "open door" policies in big business, and the work of the ombudsman in European governments are limited but

significant attempts to obtain feedback at decision centers. These practices attempt to translate, at the highest level, the responses of citizens, consumers, and employees to the programs and measures that affect them.

But these rudimentary social feedback channels are a mockery compared to the power of the systems of descending information, particularly television and advertising. To speak of communication here, on the theory that the receiver "will get the message," is an abuse of language. There can be no true communication without the feedback of information and interaction with the source.

The Imbalance in Communications

Inundated with floods of descending information, citizens are condemned to playing the role of passive observer. The feeling of frustration that they experience results from the imbalance between the unquestionable educational effectiveness of communications systems and the weak efficiency of feedback channels that are supposed to allow everyone to express his opinion or to participate fully in the operation of the society in which he lives.

There is another imbalance, that between two new social classes: the "information rich" and the "information poor." The gap between them may increase with the utility costs of interactive networks in real time. The explosive and uncontrolled proliferation of the media has created a condition of anarchy: a new form of pollution by information and a profound malaise on the part of all who must suffer the information without having the power to control it.

Today we are witnessing a reversal of attitudes as a result of the constant questioning and the pressures exerted by the younger generations. There exist powerful antibureaucratic and anti elitist feelings among the students of many countries, along with the compulsion to criticize immediately all forms of excessive centralization of power. It is a secret war against the influence of what Ivan Illich calls the "radical monopolies": systems of education, health, news, entertainment, transportation, and organized leisure. It is a feeling expressed not only in meetings and the underground press but in a crowd of initiatives:

We are experiencing an increase in pressures brought by citizens on behalf of laws and regulations limiting the power of certain organizations by making them more open to the public. The rise of the press as a fourth power (after the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary) in the Watergate scandal is the sign of a firm will to reestablish the balance of powers and to prevent confidential information from being controlled and used for personal ends.

The fight for the safeguarding of privacy from all forms of electronic eavesdrop ping and the files in central data banks is another sign of the determination to readjust the balance of powers between those who hold the power

to collect and store information and the citizens whose lives are recorded in the electronic files.

The investigations and publications of Ralph Nader and his "raiders" have shown the need for rigorous control of specialized government agencies that exercise monopoly power in some sectors of our daily life--such as health, education, food, and transportation. In the case of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, Nader's investigations have brought out the serious implications of decisions made in haste or under pressure from industrial groups.

The rise of consumerism and the expanded roles of consumer associations, parent organisations, neighborhood committees, and conservation groups are contributing to the increased power of social groups that play a significant part in the life of the country.

Student demonstrations and mass meetings, protest marches, and sit-ins that take place in front of television cameras are immediate forms of social feedback whose repercussions must not be underestimated.

In the United States the creation of Community Information Exchange Centers, located in small cities or in sections of large cities, help to bring people together on the most diverse subjects: mutual education, family and vocational guidance, drug addiction, hobbies, philosophical and religious studies, and conservation. These centers also operate as sorting stations for garbage, recyclable materials, and salvageable items.

Everyone knows the influence that Americans can exert through locally organized referendums on subjects of national interest. When questioned, they readily take stands on such subjects as the legalization of marijuana or abortion, educational reform, highway construction, urban renewal, and regional development.

These kinds of social pressures, added to the possibilities offered by the new interactive communications networks, will open up millions of channels of expression; little by little they will reverse and rebalance the flows of information at all levels of society.

The Media and Electronic Participation

The media have been quick to react to the rise of discontent resulting from the citizens' feelings of being left out of power. On their own initiative they have contributed liberally to the installation of new systems of social feedback. Apparently this was done first by radio and television networks, then by cable television companies, who were among the first to realize the social and commercial potential of an entirely new form of electronic mass participation.

The earliest instances of the expression of a collective response through radio and television have their own history. Some years ago the head of a large television network told the press about one such response. The engineers of the New York City Water Department were puzzled by the regular water consumption cycles that occurred every quarter of an hour and saw peak usage for short periods. On investigation

they discovered that the cycles corresponded precisely with the times that advertising was broadcast by all the major television networks. Television viewers were using those few minutes of advertising time to get a drink of water or to visit the bathroom!

Two instances of polling in real time, carried out by French television several years ago, deserve mention- A team of television professionals decided to question the residents of Sarcelles, considered a model "bedroom town," on the problems of living in large suburban conglomerates. In order to get an instantaneous collective response, the directors set up their cameras one night on the heights surrounding the city, from which thousands of lighted windows were visible. They asked the viewers who were watching the program (about 70 percent of the inhabitants) to turn off their lights at the beginning of the broadcast and to turn them on again only if they wanted to reply in the affirmative to the questions they would be asked. The vision of thousands of lights coming on instantly in response to the questions of the television host excited everyone who participated in the event.

The idea had been taken up by television on the occasion of a public fund-raising campaign sponsored by the French Foundation for Medical Research. Everyone remembers the event. At a prime viewing hour, an announcer speaking for the foundation asked all Frenchmen to participate in a drive to benefit biomedical research by buying a "share of life." To estimate the number of viewers interested in the appeal, the announcer asked everyone who wanted to participate to turn off his television set for one minute. The drop in current registered by Electricity of France and transmitted to computers would indicate how many viewers had turned off their sets, and the result would be broadcast. The total was 3.8 million viewers; later they all went to their town and city halls to buy their "share of life." More than 20 million French francs were collected in a few hours.[5]

Radio stations in many countries allow listeners to call at the time of broadcast discussions. In the United States there are stations that devote almost all of their broadcast time to conversation with their listeners; this is person-to-person radio. In France radio and television programs that give listeners or viewers the opportunity to express themselves or to offer their help have enjoyed great success. Several years ago American and German television networks inaugurated "participation" broadcasts. Viewers responding to a news question that could be answered yes or no called telephone numbers designated for affirmative or negative answers. The calls were quickly counted and the results broadcast.

More highly perfected systems of social feedback have been tried in the United States. One system uses terminals installed in homes, by pressing a button, individuals can register their opinions in polls. Another system uses survey checklists that appear in the daily and weekly newspapers. The forms contain boxes corresponding to the answers to the various questions. Readers check the appropriate box for each question, the survey forms are read and tabulated by computers, and the results are published in the next issue. Computer terminals have been installed in public places and in supermarkets so that consumers can inform manufacturers of their reactions to certain new products (Fig. 78).

Cable television companies are now experimenting with several kinds of interactive systems. Subscriber Response Systems (SRS) enable a single computer to collect information from the terminals of ten thousand subscribers in less than two seconds. In South Orange, New Jersey, four thousand cable television subscribers participated in a survey on programs and their quality. The Mitre Corporation conducted an experiment in Reston, Virginia, in which subscribers choose their own programs and communicate among themselves through individual "addresses" stored by the computer.

So far the press has not participated in social feedback operations on a large scale beyond the publication of opinion polls. The practice of publishing opinion polls goes back to the end of World War II; the surveys are a kind of social mirror that reflects for the nation a fixed image of its opinions and its choices on a wide range of subjects.

Experiments in social feedback in our day all stress one important point that has been confirmed by other research (notably that on educational systems using classrooms equipped to register a collective student response): collective feedback is valid for eac hparticipant only when he receives the overall results in real time. The students say there is a big difference between making a mistake along with 80 percent of the class and making it all alone. In any case, they want to know. Social feedback also seems to reinforce the willingness to participate, one wants to know more and to learn from the responses of others, as one is anxious about what others have said and how they reacted.

What is also striking in this kind of experiment is the sense of togetherness that connects and integrates the members of a group taking part in a large-scale investigation. Each person has the feeling of acting in a new dimension, of participating effectively in something larger than the individual, something that brings one together with one's equals.

The intensity of social feedback in real time that consists of thousands, even millions of individual responses is fascinating and at the same time disturbing, like some untamed force that is poorly known and poorly used yet holds the promise of a new balance of power and control.

Problems of Representation

When one speaks of the potential of telecommunications and data processing in the various forms of simultaneous collective responses, or social feedback, this immediately evokes in many minds two images, both futuristic and easily caricatured. The first is that of a "continuing electronic referendum" on a wide range of topics, to which citizens would be subjected. The second is that of a giant computer connected to each voter, taking the place of cabinet members and congressmen in their roles as planners and coordinators of the country's economic and social life.

The two possibilities are as absurd as they are unlikely. Such systems, to be at all effective, must assume that citizens are informed to such a degree about the problems on which they have to form opinions that in fact they would have to spend so much of their time collecting, organizing, and studying information that they would have no time for other activities.

Fortunately the computer is not ready to make every living room a center of government. Moreover, this kind of continuing referendum on a nationwide basis, even if it were possible, would be extremely dangerous. The immediate response of millions of citizens to the questions that a president might ask them directly on the little screen would cause a form of short circuit, resulting in an enormous loss of energy. Information rising instantly from the entire base of the social pyramid to its summit would have the paralyzing effect of a social electrocution.

More than ever we must take into account the necessary delays in response times that are a part of social systems--the hierarchy of levels that allows intermediary bodies and representative organisms to act

as transmission lines. The absence of friction, delays, and restraints can lead to extremely dangerous, self-amplified oscillations, as studies of servomechanisms have shown. Filtering, buffer effects, and even disorder, introduced by interactions between individuals, protect the social system and allow it time to adapt to rapid change and new situations. The delaying factors also alleviate the volume of responses, eliminate "noise," and in the long run draw out significant information and tendencies.

To be effective, a participative system must take into account both the response of the people and the intensity of that response. Without the dimension that intensity gives it, a response is empty; one soon realizes how difficult it is to moderate the result of the affective or impassioned reactions of a mass of individuals who are poorly informed about the situation on which they are consulted. This is especially true in evaluating the intensity of the responses of minority groups.

Instead of national electronic referendums, we need decentralized systems of participation that permit continuing control and planning of social and economic activities at the local level (neighborhood, business, city, state, or region). The human organism and biological systems in general offer numerous models for the decentralized regulation of equilibriums. Such decentralization deals directly with the function of representation.

The representative (local elected official, congressman, union officer, administrator) does not need all the available information on a given subject. He cannot be at the same time a public opinion institute, a storage bank, and a transmitter-receiver that decodes and transmits faithfully the messages from his constituents. The representative can select, distort, amplify, or hide information to serve his personal ends. More than the perfect transmitter of information, he is the creator of a new form of information, a principal actor in the greater participative system.

Out of this subtle game of transaction, filtering, and negotiation, the function of representation is born, emerging at the "macroscopic" level, as does every systemic property. The question is not one of knowing whether to get rid of representatives considered out of date in the technological plan for the communications revolution; it is a question of knowing how best to use the interactive participation systems, electronic or not, at all levels of organization, in order to strengthen the function of representation and especially to restore the balance of powers among representatives, the represented, and the managers.

Still we are not sure which of the electronic means could effectively help representative bodies, pressure groups, lobbyists, labor unions, consumer associations, employee committees, and municipal councils. We might try to strengthen the role of the representatives by giving them access to an impartial and objective "service of experts" made up of electronic interactive participation systems linked to citizen groups.

The interactive participation systems created for special purposes will play increasingly important roles in local government, international organizations, and large symposiums ( see notes ). Several countries are already experimenting with continuing referendum installations that permit qualified responses in the place of the simple yes or no.[6]

Such systems will be used first at the local level, then extended through a series of interconnections with all the major professional fields and finally with entire geographic regions. The initial impact of these systems will probably be felt first in the business world.

Contrary to what classic theories of management advise, more and more attention must be given to the flows of information that rise from the base of the pyramid toward the decision centers. No one can appreciate a problem better than the person who is closest to it. In the United States and in Europe general managers compliment themselves on being able to make fast decisions--but how long does it take to apply the decisions that come "from above"? In Japan arriving at a decision is a slow process because everyone participates, but once the decision is made it is put into effect almost immediately.

Advantages and Dangers Of Society in Real Time

Instant access to information and the use of electronic systems for participation in real time hold out great hope for a transition to a more just and more humane society. At the same time they represent one of the most serious threats humanity has ever faced: the risk of concentrating power in a few hands has never been so high. Yet the opportunities for bringing citizens closer together have never been so great.

The redistribution of power that data banks allow permits a more conscious participation of individuals in the general functioning of society, in its major decisions, and in the regulation of its equilibriums. The social feedback loop, which we perceive now at the level of observation of the macroscope, could in the very long run be one of the predominant elements in the regulation of the metabolism of society. This feedback loop will contribute to the control of energy consumption and the growth rate, the adjustment of production to needs, and the control of the production of wastes and the cycles of recovery and recycling.

During the worst of the energy crisis, public opinion was impressed by the breadth of the results--within a few weeks and on a national scale--that followed restrictions on travel and the regulation of thermostats. Through the feedback of results, everyone discovered the power of collective efforts coordinated and synchronized toward a specific goal.

The big difference, compared to well-known movements in history (wars, fascist and totalitarian dictatorships), was that for the first time such movements could be coordinated by the citizens themselves, in their own interest. Social feedback makes it possible to respond to demand and to need--to adapt to an environment experiencing rapid evolution, to anticipate and use events as evolutionary factors instead of managing successive crises. The large newspaper organizations and the television networks will be able to tailor their publications and their programs more effectively, satisfying the public's aspirations while continuing-- by maintaining a dialogue with the public--to raise its general level of knowledge.

But democracy in real time offers not only advantages; badly directed and controlled, it can lead to the worst of dictatorships. In fact a more sensitive, more interactive society that depends on complex regulation systems becomes still more vulnerable to destruction and to distortions of all kinds. It is like any other complex living organism. What guarantees can one offer the public to assure it that the interactive networks will not serve the interests of small political or business groups rather than those of the public? It is easy to falsify or manipulate the data that result from opinion polls in real time, through the selection of criteria that modify their treatment by the computers and the posting of the results.

Installation costs for electronic systems that provide instant access to information might be so high that only a few large industrial firms would have the means for developing them, using them, or controlling them in their own interests. At whatever level it occurs, social feedback clearly has value and interest only when it comes from all the individuals concerned. Can you imagine a situation in which the cost of terminals was very high or there were long delays in installation and some citizens were deprived of their right to vote while others, in more comfortable circumstances, were favored? Once again decentralized participation at several hierarchical levels is necessary within the framework of a public service from which all citizens can benefit.

The dangers of manipulating flows of information being fed back to the decision centers and the dangers of invading citizens' privacy by building up data banks on them are obvious. An information network linked to computers and continuously interrogating the terminals in specific homes in order to learn those people's questions or tastes could become the basis of a gigantic electronic file on the individuals. The shadow of Big Brother described by George Orwell in 1984 stands out as data are increasingly centralized through electronics.

Political problems posed by social feedback have been very little studied so far. I have spoken of the role of representatives; on another level,

how can one establish continuing citizen control of the groups or bodies that have charge of the programming of computers and the maintenance of networks? How can there be control over the way in which questions are asked?--a particularly delicate problem when one understands the influence of the wording of a question on the persons chosen to answer it. How can one protect oneself against momentary "gut" reactions? How should one treat the necessary maturation time and the delays inherent in social systems? We do not know very well the response times of these systems. The cumulative effects of a series of seemingly insignificant stimuli, taken up by the media, are capable of creating a climate of tension or collective hysteria. An electronic participation system could amplify such reactions through positive feedback and lead to collective behavior that would be catastrophic.

An entire science of the dynamics of complex social systems remains to be established. Shall we be successful in respecting our individual liberties as we install the cybernetic mechanisms of regulation in real time that are so grievously wanting in our social systems even as they form the basis of biological systems?

[1] The logarithm of a number is the power to which the base must be raised to obtain the number. In base 10 the logarithm of 1,000 is 3, because 1,000 = 103. In base 2 the logarithm of 16 is 4, because 16 = 24.

[2] Inversely, the brain creates information and thus can decrease entropy. We will see this in the following chapter, on time.

[3] The circuits of ascending and descending information exist only where there is centralized power. In a decentralized, interactive, and participative society, the wealth of interaction in real time is founded on the diversity of exchanges between individuals. Decentralization of power comes about naturally through a growth in individual responsibility and in pluralism.

[4] This wilfully futuristic description of services in real time has tried to show toward what the explosive development of telecommunications and data processing can lead. It is not a technological forecast. We must also take notice of the other extreme view, shared by sociologists and architects like Yona Friedman, who say that all global communication is impossible because of the critical size of groups. We are moving toward a "poor world" fragmented into hundreds of little communities with communication between them reduced to a minimum.

[5] This kind of public appeal is open to discussion and has had mixed reactions in France. I shall not pursue the controversy here; I only want to illustrate the potential for social feedback on a large scale.

[6] More examples are given in the sixth chapter, on education.