I was thinking about something this morning on the ride into work that I’d like to ask your opinion about. It has to do with the amount of data that could be absorbed and acted on by a unit or system in a given period of time.

The idea is that there is only so much information that a unit (such as a person) can adequately absorb and process at a time. At some point the system becomes unstable (or the person becomes so randomized in tasks) that that unit is saturated. I would imagine that adding more units (people, computers, sensing units, etc.) would work to some level, but even a complex system of units such as a company or a bank of computers could then be viewed as simply another single unit – or perhaps not.

It also seems that there would be a natural “curve” in the data where adding more units or inputs would not help process any more data.

It would be useful to have a formula for determining this “level” of information absorption. It would have implications from entertainment to screen design, and on to encryption algorithms and more. For instance, Disney might use it to determine just how many visual elements to put on a ride or attraction, and no more. Software designers could use it to determine when there is too much information on a screen for a given class of user. And organizations could use it to determine when they should add resources, such as people, to a group to solve a problem, and when adding more headcount simply won’t help.

I’m thinking that there are at least these variables or parameters in the mix, but the definitions would need to include at least these elements:

· T – Time. This is the time taken by each

· Ar - Acquisition Rate for the unit

· Pr – Processing Rate for the unit. This would need to include the experience level of the unit with the information (preprocessing) and so on.

· I – Inputs on the unit. The number of discrete or combinatorial elements available to the unit to

· D = Amount of data. This is the total amount of information available to the input device (eyes, ears, CPU, photometer, etc.)

· R – Response. The amount of time taken to complete a cycle.

As to the formula, I’m not sure how I would go about developing that. I welcome your input.

This work may have already been done – either in cognitive research fields or systems analysis, but I couldn’t find a formula. Do any of you have any thoughts on this topic?