Informatics (academic field)

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Not to be confused with Information technology. ‹See Tfd›

Informatics is - in a general sense - the science of information. As an academic field it involves the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems. It studies the structure, algorithms, behaviour, and interactions of natural and artificial systems which store, process, access, and communicate information. The field considers the interaction between humans and information systems alongside the construction of computer interfaces. It also develops its own conceptual and theoretical foundations and utilizes foundations developed in other fields. As such, the field of informatics has great breadth and encompasses many individual specialisations including the more particular discipline of computing science. Since the advent of computers, individuals and organizations increasingly process information digitally. This has led to the study of informatics with computational, mathematical, biological, cognitive and social aspects, including study of the social impact of information technologies. However, it is important to note that Informatics as an academic field is not explicitly dependent upon technological aspects of information, while information technology is.

Etymology[edit]

In 1957 the German computer scientist Karl Steinbuch coined the word Informatik by publishing a paper called Informatik: Automatische Informationsverarbeitung ("Informatics: Automatic Information Processing").[1] The English term Informatics is sometimes understood as meaning the same as computer science. The German word Informatik is usually translated to English as computer science.

The French term informatique was coined in 1962 by Philippe Dreyfus[2] together with various translations—informatics (English), also proposed independently and simultaneously by Walter F. Bauer and associates who co-founded Informatics Inc., and informatica (Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, Dutch), referring to the application of computers to store and process information.

The term was coined as a combination of "information" and "automatic" to describe the science of automating information interactions. The morphology—informat-ion + -ics—uses "the accepted form for names of sciences, as conics, linguistics, optics, or matters of practice, as economics, politics, tactics",[3] and so, linguistically, the meaning extends easily to encompass both the science of information and the practice of information processing.

A practitioner of informatics may be called an informatician or an informaticist.

History[edit]

This new term was adopted across Western Europe, and, except in English, developed a meaning roughly translated by the English ‘computer science’, or ‘computing science’. Mikhailov et al. advocated the Russian term informatika (1966), and the English informatics (1967), as names for the theory of scientific information, and argued for a broader meaning, including study of the use of information technology in various communities (for example, scientific) and of the interaction of technology and human organizational structures.

Informatics is the discipline of science which investigates the structure and properties (not specific content) of scientific information, as well as the regularities of scientific information activity, its theory, history, methodology and organization.[4]

Usage has since modified this definition in three ways. First, the restriction to scientific information is removed, as in business informatics or legal informatics. Second, since most information is now digitally stored, computation is now central to informatics. Third, the representation, processing and communication of information are added as objects of investigation, since they have been recognized as fundamental to any scientific account of information. Taking information as the central focus of study distinguishes informatics from computer science. Informatics includes the study of biological and social mechanisms of information processing whereas computer science focuses on the digital computation. Similarly, in the study of representation and communication, informatics is indifferent to the substrate that carries information. For example, it encompasses the study of communication using gesture, speech and language, as well as digital communications and networking.

In the English-speaking world the term informatics was first widely used in the compound, ‘medical informatics’, taken to include "the cognitive, information processing, and communication tasks of medical practice, education, and research, including information science and the technology to support these tasks".[5] Many such compounds are now in use; they can be viewed as different areas of applied informatics.

Informatics encompasses the study of systems that represent, process, and communicate information. However, the theory of computation in the specific discipline of theoretical computer science, which evolved from Alan Turing, studies the notion of a complex system regardless of whether or not information actually exists. Since both fields process information, there is some disagreement among scientists as to field hierarchy; for example Arizona State University attempted to adopt a broader definition of informatics to even encompass cognitive science at the launch of its School of Computing and Informatics in September 2006. The confusion arises since information can be easily stored on a computer and hence informatics could be considered the parent of computer science. However, the original notion of a computer was the name given to the action of computation regardless of the existence of information or the existence of a Von Neumann architecture. Humans are examples of computational systems and not information systems. Many fields such as quantum computing theory are studied in theoretical computer science but not related to informatics.

In 1989, the first International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) was held in Bulgaria. The olympiad involves two five-hour days of competition between highly-selective teams. Only four students are selected from each participating country to attend and compete for Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals. The IOI is held in a different host country each year. The first event attracted only 13 national teams, while the 2013 event saw 77 countries represented.[6]

The first example of a degree level qualification in Informatics occurred in 1982 when Plymouth Polytechnic (now the University of Plymouth) offered a four year BSc(Honours) degree in Computing and Informatics – with an initial intake of only 35 students. The course still runs today [7] making it the longest available qualification in the subject.

A broad interpretation of informatics, as "the study of the structure, algorithms, behaviour, and interactions of natural and artificial computational systems," was introduced by the University of Edinburgh in 1994 when it formed the grouping that is now its School of Informatics. This meaning is now (2006) increasingly used in the United Kingdom.[8]

The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, of the UK Funding Councils, includes a new, Computer Science and Informatics, unit of assessment (UoA),[9] whose scope is described as follows:

The UoA includes the study of methods for acquiring, storing, processing, communicating and reasoning about information, and the role of interactivity in natural and artificial systems, through the implementation, organisation and use of computer hardware, software and other resources. The subjects are characterised by the rigorous application of analysis, experimentation and design.

At the Indiana University School of Informatics (Bloomington, Indianapolis and Southeast), informatics is defined as "the art, science and human dimensions of information technology" and "the study, application, and social consequences of technology." It is also defined in Informatics 101, Introduction to Informatics as "the application of information technology to the arts, sciences, and professions." These definitions are widely accepted in the United States, and differ from British usage in omitting the study of natural computation.

At the University of California, Irvine Department of Informatics, informatics is defined as "the interdisciplinary study of the design, application, use and impact of information technology. The discipline of informatics is based on the recognition that the design of this technology is not solely a technical matter, but must focus on the relationship between the technology and its use in real-world settings. That is, informatics designs solutions in context, and takes into account the social, cultural and organizational settings in which computing and information technology will be used."

At the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Informatics interdisciplinary major, informatics is defined as "the study of information and the ways information is used by and affects human beings and social systems. The major involves coursework from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, where the Informatics major is housed, as well as the School of Information and the College of Engineering. Key to this growing field is that it applies both technological and social perspectives to the study of information. Michigan's interdisciplinary approach to teaching Informatics gives you a solid grounding in contemporary computer programming, mathematics, and statistics, combined with study of the ethical and social science aspects of complex information systems. Experts in the field help design new information technology tools for specific scientific, business, and cultural needs." Michigan offers four curricular tracks within the informatics degree to provide students with increased expertise. These four track topics include:[10]

  • Internet Informatics: An applied track in which students experiment with technologies behind Internet-based information systems and acquire skills to map problems to deployable Internet-based solutions. This track will replace Computational Informatics in Fall 2013.[11]
  • Data Mining & Information Analysis: Integrates the collection, analysis, and visualization of complex data and its critical role in research, business, and government to provide students with practical skills and a theoretical basis for approaching challenging data analysis problems.
  • Life Science Informatics: Examines artificial information systems, which has helped scientists make great progress in identifying core components of organisms and ecosystems.
  • Social Computing: Advances in computing have created opportunities for studying patterns of social interaction and developing systems that act as introducers, recommenders, coordinators, and record-keepers. Students, in this track, craft, evaluate, and refine social software computer applications for engaging technology in unique social contexts. This track will be phased out in Fall 2013 in favor of the new bachelor of science in information. This will be the first undergraduate degree offered by the School of Information since its founding in 1996. The School of Information already contains a Master's program, Doctorate program, and a professional master's program in conjunction with the School of Public Health. The BS in Information at the University of Michigan will be the first curriculum program of its kind in the United States, with the first graduating class to emerge in 2015. Students will be able to apply for this unique degree in 2013 for the 2014 Fall semester; the new degree will be a stem off of the most popular Social Computing track in the current Informatics interdisciplinary major in LSA. Applications will be open to upper-classmen, juniors and seniors, along with a variety of information classes available for first and second year students to gauge interest and value in the specific sector of study. The degree was approved by the University on June 11, 2012.[12] Along with a new degree in the School of Information, there has also been the first and only chapter of an Informatics Professional Fraternity, Kappa Theta Pi, chartered in Fall 2012.[13]

One of the most significant areas of applied informatics is that of organizational informatics. Organisational informatics is fundamentally interested in the application of information, information systems and ICT within organisations of various forms including private sector, public sector and voluntary sector organisations.[14][15] As such, organisational informatics can be seen to be sub-category of social informatics and a super-category of business informatics.

Contributing disciplines[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Karl Steinbuch Eulogy – Bernard Widrow, Reiner Hartenstein, Robert Hecht-Nielsen
  2. ^ Dreyfus, Phillipe. L’informatique. Gestion, Paris, June 1962, pp. 240–41
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 1989
  4. ^ Mikhailov, A.I., Chernyl, A.I., and Gilyarevskii, R.S. (1966) "Informatika – novoe nazvanie teorii naučnoj informacii." Naučno tehničeskaja informacija, 12, pp. 35–39.
  5. ^ Greenes, R.A. and Shortliffe, E.H. (1990) "Medical Informatics: An emerging discipline with academic and institutional perspectives." Journal of the American Medical Association, 263(8) pp. 1114–20.
  6. ^ IOI Olympiads
  7. ^ BSc(Hons) Computing Informatics – University of Plymouth Link
  8. ^ For example, at University of Reading, Sussex, City University, Ulster, Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle
  9. ^ UoA 23 Computer Science and Informatics, Panel working methods
  10. ^ "Curriculum - Informatics - University of Michigan". University of Michigan. Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Concentration: Informatics". University of Michigan. Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  12. ^ "UMSI plans new undergraduate degree". University of Michigan School of Information. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  13. ^ "Kappa Theta Pi (KTP)". Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  14. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2002). Information Systems: an introduction to informatics in Organisations. Palgrave, Basingstoke, UK. ISBN 0-333-96390-3
  15. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2009). Business Information Systems. Palgrave, Basingstoke, UK. ISBN 978-0-230-20368-6

External links[edit]