February 19 – 23 , 1996, Dagstuhl Seminar 9608

Informatics and Semiotics


P.B. Andersen, M. Nadin, F. Nake

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Dagstuhl's Impact: Documents available
Dagstuhl-Seminar-Report 135


In recent years, the theoretical foundations of informatics have been questioned. While no one really disputes the formal, logical foundations, many have noticed that there is more to the theory of writing programs than logics and algorithmic theory. One particular aspect of complex software has begun to emerge: its intrinsic semiotic nature.

The representation problem is deeply rooted in semiotics. Nothing can become a subject matter of computing unless it is first transformed into signs. The computer may be called a semiotic machine, and informatics may be viewed as a Technical Semiotics or Semiotic Engineering. Models are extremely important to computing. They are of semiotic nature. Hierarchies or other structures of systems are signs of signs, Graphic user interfaces burst with signs.

Informatics deals with algorithmic semioses. This notion entails a contradiction in adjecto: Signs are pragmatically interpreted, semantically defined, and syntactically processed. But computing applies to the syntactic dimension only. Therefore, signs have to be reduced to their syntactic dimension in order to enter an algorithmic semiosis. The seminar addressed this contradiction.

Our intent is to bring together people both from informatics and semiotics. We hope for contributions and discussion that identify differences in theoretical assumptions and practical conclusions, and go on to formulate detailed questions for research agenda.

Details of the workshop are open to the participants. Questions to be asked could include the following:

  • In what sense does semiotics belong to the fundamentals of a theory of informatics?
  • What are the semiotic foundations of informatics?
  • What happens to sign processes when they are submitted to computers?
  • What can interface designers learn form semiotics?
  • What are repercussions of informatics on semiotic research?
  • In what sense can we view the computer as a medium?
  • Which consequences foes this have for software design?
  • How does interactivity reflect the semiotic condition of informatics?
  • Does the Physical Symbol Systems Hypothesis have a fruitful semiotic interpretation?
  • Is the semiotic foundation of human cognitive processes the same as that of information processing?
  • Can we derive, from this foundation, improved computational models?


In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.


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