The More You Know, the More You Can Grow

An Information Theoretic Approach to Growth in the Information Age

Hilbert, M. (2017). The More You Know, the More You Can Grow: An Information Theoretic Approach to Growth in the Information Age. Entropy, 19(2), 82. Open Access: 



In our information age, information alone has become a driver of social growth. Information is the fuel of “big data” companies, and the decision-making compass of policy makers. Can we quantify how much information leads to how much social growth potential? Information theory is used to show that information (in bits) is effectively a quantifiable ingredient of growth. The article presents a single equation that allows both to describe hands-off natural selection of evolving populations and to optimize population fitness in uncertain environments through intervention. The setup analyzes the communication channel between the growing population and its uncertain environment. The role of information in population growth can be thought of as the optimization of information flow over this (more or less) noisy channel. Optimized growth implies that the population absorbs all communicated environmental structure during evolutionary updating (measured by their mutual information). This is achieved by endogenously adjusting the population structure to the exogenous environmental pattern (through bet-hedging/portfolio management). The setup can be applied to decompose the growth of any discrete population in stationary, stochastic environments (economic, cultural, or biological). Two empirical examples from the information economy reveal inherent trade-offs among the involved information quantities during growth optimization.