The Open UniversitySkip to content

The Second Law and Rivalrous Digital Information (Or Maxwell's Demon in an Information Age)

Corrigan, Ray (2006). The Second Law and Rivalrous Digital Information (Or Maxwell's Demon in an Information Age). In: World Economics, 6(3) pp. 153–174.

Full text available as:
PDF (Not Set) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (132kB)
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


Over thirty years ago Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, in an extraordinary book The Entropy Law and the Economic Process opened up a whole new branch of environmental economics, exploring the impact of a fundamental, though not widely known, law of nature, the second law of thermodynamics, on the economic process. The 2nd law of thermodynamics basically says that when energy gets transformed some of it always gets wasted. No matter how efficient we make any machine it will always waste energy to some degree.

This has implications for the knowledge society. There is a widespread belief that once information is digitised it can be copied and distributed at zero marginal cost but digital information fundamentally depends on access to a source of energy. And it turns out that large data centres and servers use up a lot of energy. The big technology companies' energy bills can run into hundreds of millions of dollars. In a world facing an energy crisis that means digital information is a little more rivalrous than we originally thought...

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item
Extra Information: GikII was a closed workshop chaired by Professor Lilian Edwards, preceeding the VI Computer Law World Conference on the 6th September 2006. By invitation only, the meeting focussed on law in popular culture and governance in an online world.
Keywords: internet law; knowledge society; education; energy; ICT energy costs; 2nd law of thermodynamics; rivalrous digital information
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Computing and Communications
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Item ID: 10327
Depositing User: Ray Corrigan
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2008
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2018 07:32
Share this page:

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU