involves communication of data

the raw stuff of knowledge

the theory developed by Claude Shannon in The Mathematical Theory of Communication

studied by Norbert Wiener

a component of cybernetics

discussed in Human Use of Human Beings

The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages. The system must be designed to operate for each possible selection, not just the one which will actually be chosen since this is unknown at the time of design.

The ratio of the entropy of a source to the maximum value it could have while still restricted to the same symbols will be called its relative entropy. This, as will appear later, is the maximum compression possible when we encode into the same alphabet. One minus the relative entropy is the redundancy. The redundancy of ordinary English, not considering statistical structure over greater distances than about eight letters, is roughly 50%. This means that when we write English half of what we write is determined by the structure of the language and half is chosen freely. The figure 50% was found by several independent methods which all gave results in this neighborhood. One is by calculation of the entropy of the approximations to English. A second method is to delete a certain fraction of the letters from a sample of Enlgish tect and then let someone attempt to restore them. If thay can be restored when 50% are deleted the redundancy must be greater than 50%. A third method depends on certain known results in cryptography.

Two extremes of redundancy in English prose are represented by Basic English and by James Joyce's book Finnegan's Wake. The Basic English vocabulary is limited to 850 words and the redundancy is very high. This is reflected in the expansion that occurs when a passage is translated into Basic English. Joyce on the other hand enlarges the vocabulary and is alleged to achieve a compression of semantic content.

The redundancy of language is related to the existence of crossword puzzles. If the redundancy is zero any sequence of letters is a reasonable text in the language and any two-dimensional array of letters forms a crossword puzzle. If the redundancy is too high the language imposes too many constraints for large crossword puzzles to be possible. A more detailed analysis shows that if we assume the constraints imposed by the language are of a rather chaotic and random nature, large crossword puzzles are just possible when the redundancy is 50%. If the redundancy is 33%, three-dimensional corssword puzzles should be possible, etc.

--The Mathematical Theory of Communication