Weak Signal® Research

Glossary of Terms

January 16, 1997


"The subsystem which carries out the first stage of the learning process forming enduring associations among items of information in the system." (Miller) The Associator is the model builder of the system and the most active player in the 'Spoze model.

Channel and Net
"The subsystem composed of a single route in physical space, or multiple interconnected routes, by which markers bearing information are transmitted to all parts of the system." (Miller)

"The executive subsystem which receives information inputs from all other subsystems and transmits to them information outputs that control the entire system." (Miller)

"The subsystem which alters the code of information input to it through the input transducer or internal transducer into a private code that can be used internally by the system." (Miller)

Ecosystem of Ideas
A set of signals, most of which are weak signals, which autocatalyze each other to create entirely new industries, products, processes. The relationship between the invention of the automobile, and the provision of roads, gas stations, and the like is an example of the emergence of an ecosystem of ideas.

"The subsystem which alters the code of information input to it form other information processing subsystems, from a private code used internally by the system into a public code which can be interpreted by other systems in its environment." (Miller)

Information is a measure of the amount of entropy or uncertainty in what a receiver anticipates from a transmitter. The higher the entropy, the more the information inherent in the potential information event.

"The entropy of communication theory, measured in bits per symbol or bits per second, is equal to the average number of binary digits per symbol or per second which are needed in order to transmit messages produced by the source. In communication theory, entropy is interpreted as average uncertainty or choice, e.g., the average uncertainty as to what symbol the source will produce next or the average choice the source has as to what symbol it will produce next. The entropy of statistical mechanics measures the uncertainty as to which of many possible states a physical system is actually in." (Pierce)

The activity of a system that sends messages back to itself in order to adjust its behavior to keep it in homeostasis, or to propel it purposefully out of homeostasis in order to adapt.

One way of detecting a signal in a noisy channel. If the frequencies of the noise are different from the dominant frequencies of the signal, then a filter may be constructed that eliminates the frequencies in the noise. The resulting signal will be clean. Notice that the power of the signal does not have to be boosted. We refer to this phenomenon as "knowing your noise."

You must either know the type of noise (Wiener/Cybernetics) so you can extract a signal from it, or know the type of signal (Shannon/Communication Theory—efficient encoding) to obtain an accurate transmission over a noisy channel. Alternately, you can reduce noise from the channel or boost the signal, both of which are very expensive propositions.

A state of balance in a living system which must be maintained for continued viability. An example is core body temperature.

A message to which value and meaning has been applied. A measure of the order inherent in a system (Wiener). A measure of the uncertainty or surprise in the total communication event (Shannon).

In the colloquial use of the word "information", we really mean "message". If someone tells you they have some information concerning an event, they’re referring to a message concerning the status of the behavior of a system. If they tell you they have information concerning a subject, they’re referring to stored messages that have been cataloged or categorized in some repository.

Wiener considers information after the signaling event, and says that it represents something "transmitted as a single decision between equally probable alternatives." (Wiener) He sees information expressed as the result of a decision.

Shannon sees information at the front end of the signaling event. At that point, the more uncertainty there is in what the receiver expects for the next message component, the more information is contained in the event. These two approaches are good ways to think about information and how systems use it.

For the purposes of this series of papers, I prefer to call the "information" contained in a signal, the "message". I call information the measure of the uncertainty or surprise at the front end of the communication event. At the back end of the communication event is a message that the receiver has assigned some value to, and this is what I call information. If the value is high, the message is compelling information or "compelling input" and forces the receiving system to make a decision concerning the state of the system.

Input Transducer
"The sensory subsystem which brings markers bearing information into the system, changing them to other matter-energy forms suitable for transmission within it." (Miller)

Internal Transducer
"The sensory subsystem which receives, from subsystems or components within the system, markers bearing information about significant alterations in those subsystems or components, changing them to other matter-energy forms of a sort which can be transmitted within it." (Miller)

"The subsystem which carries out the second stage of the learning process, storing various sorts of information in the system for different periods of time." (Miller)

The content of a signal. In a sense, the signal and its message are inseparable. However, we may also add that a signal becomes a message when a system has successfully decoded it. "A string of symbols; an electric signal." (Pierce)

The value that a receiver attaches to the content of a message in a signal. The value is expressed in how the system uses the message to model and adjust its current state: the state change that the controller of the system effects upon the system as a result of the message having been received.

"Any undesired disturbance in a signaling system, such as, random electric currents in a telephone system. Noise is observed as static or hissing in radio receivers and as ‘snow’ in TV." (Pierce) Valuable weak signals are frequently treated as noise by systems and thus overlooked. Hence the value of "knowing our noise" as a technique for ferreting out these valuable items.

Output Transducer
The subsystem which puts out markers bearing information from the system, changing markers within the system into other matter-energy forms which can be transmitted over channels in the system’s environment.

A system or subsystem employed to transduce signals bearing messages from a Channel and Net into the system of which it is a component.

An event in which some living system or other element in the environment transmits a message in the course or as a result of its actions or behavior. A transmission of analog or digital patterns through some medium from a transmitter to a receiver. The particular receiver may or may not be intended. "A variable electric current deliberately transmitted by a communication system." (Pierce)

A system or subsystem employed to transduce signals bearing messages from the system of which it is a component into a Channel and Net.

Weak Signal
A half-hidden idea or trend that will affect how we do business, what business we do, and the environment in which we will work; a new and surprising signal from the receiver's vantage point; sometimes difficult to track down amid other noise and signals; a threat or opportunity to your organization.

In general, any information that is difficult to detect or distinguish because of the noise in the system. There are three varieties of weak signals.

  1. Any difficult to detect signal which indicates a disruption in the normal operations (homeostasis) of a system.
  2. Any difficult to detect signal which indicates a linear trend in the development of some idea or system.
  3. A non-linear, hard to predict trend that has yet to reach mainstream recognition.

Weak Signal® Research
Refers to those organizational traits and organic components that enable the enterprise to detect weak signals as a matter of course, build models and stories that illustrate the possible effects of whole sets of signals over time, and redesign itself efficiently to take advantage of these possibilities.



Miller, James Grier, Living Systems

Pierce, John R., An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise

Wiener, Norbert, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine


Related Weak Signal Research Articles

Part I: Introduction
Part 2: Information Theory
Part 3: Sampling, Uncertainty and Phase Shifts in Weak Signals
Part 4: Evolution and Growth of the Weak Signal to Maturity
Part 5: A Process Model for Weak Signal Research

Other material on Weak Signal Research on this website

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