‘It from bit’ is an aphorism coined by the well-known Physicist J. Wheeler: he used these words to argue that anything in the physical world, i.e., any “it”, ultimately derives its existence from “bit”, i.e., “information”.
Today, we may also argue the opposite, which is inverting the aphorism and saying ‘bit’ from ‘it’. As a matter of fact, today’s technologies allow us associating “bits of information” to anything in the physical world.
One may say, this is not the type of “information” meant by J. Wheeler. Yes, this is still information, digital information. For J. Wheeler, who was a Physicist, ‘bit’ is something related to our sensory perceptions, while ‘it’ is something like a quantum field whose existence we deduce from a pattern of perceived “bits”.
For us ‘bit’ could be a piece of mined data (i.e., think about the Big Data) and ‘it’ anything around us (i.e., think about the Internet with Things).
Anyway, the concept of “information” is so profound, that defining it is not that simple. We’ve got several definitions in the past. The same for “networks”, so strictly related to the transfer of information…
A well-known definition of information is from Shannon, which he also called entropy following a Von Neumann’s advice, by analogy with Boltzmann’s entropy in statistical mechanics. On the other hand, this definition of information is nothing more than a sequence of symbols: in practice binary numbers with their probabilities. The semantic (or even emotional) meaning of this information is up to the Sender and the Receiver, and often them may interpret the information messages differently, depending on their cognitive (internal – external) states.
A challenge that we have today is going beyond this traditional information theory, which considers the exchanges of messages between endpoints.
This has been captured very well by Frederick Brooks in “The Great Challenges for Half Century Old Computer Science”: “Shannon performed an inestimable service by giving us a definition of Information and a metric for Information as communicated from place to place. We have no theory however that gives us a metric for the Information embodied in structure. . .”
How information, and its processing, in broad sense, can be fully embodied in the structure of the reality ?
This is what happens in Nature: from electrochemical information in networks of neurons, to biological information stored, and processed in living cells, to information enabling self-organization in ecosystems… Just speculations ?
Not only. When imagining the coming of an environment around us, made of an ultra-dense intertwining of processing, storage and embedded communications, we need finding a new definition of information, related even to the cognitive and emotional processes of human mind.
This will bring, also at the same time, to a new definition of “networks” beyond the concept of connecting end-points, towards the idea of a communication fabric embedded into environment: welcome to the real future Internet.