In some situations, information science and informatics are used interchangeably. However, some consider information science to be a subarea of the more general field of informatics.
Used as a compound, in conjunction with the name of a discipline, as in medical informatics, bioinformatics, etc., it denotes the specialization of informatics to the management and processing of data, information and knowledge in the named discipline, and the incorporation of informatic concepts and theories to enrich the other discipline; it has a similar relationship to library science.
In 1957 the German computer scientist Karl Steinbuch coined the word Informatik by publishing a paper called Informatik: Automatische Informationsverarbeitung ("Informatics: Automatic Information Processing"). The English term Informatics is sometimes understood as meaning the same as computer science. However, "computer science" has a more restricted connotation.
The French term informatique was coined in 1962 by Philippe Dreyfus together with various translations—informatics (English), also proposed independently and simultaneously by Walter F.Bauer who co-founded the company named Informatics General, Inc., and informatica (Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, Dutch), referring to the application of computers to store and process information.
The term was coined as a combination of "information" and "automation" to describe the science of automatic information processing. The morphology—informat-ion + -ics—uses "the accepted form for names of sciences, as conics, linguistics, optics, or matters of practice, as economics, politics, tactics", and so, linguistically, the meaning extends easily to encompass both the science of information and the practice of information processing.
This new term was adopted across Western Europe, and, except in English, developed a meaning roughly translated by the English ‘computer science’, or ‘computing science’. Mikhailov et al. advocated the Russian term informatika (1966), and the English informatics (1967), as names for the theory of scientific information, and argued for a broader meaning, including study of the use of information technology in various communities (for example, scientific) and of the interaction of technology and human organizational structures.
Usage has since modified this definition in three ways. First, the restriction to scientific information is removed, as in business informatics or legal informatics. Second, since most information is now digitally stored, computation is now central to informatics. Third, the representation, processing and communication of information are added as objects of investigation, since they have been recognized as fundamental to any scientific account of information. Taking information as the central focus of study, then distinguishes informatics—which includes study of biological and social mechanisms of information processing, from computer science—where digital computation plays a distinguished central role. Similarly, in the study of representation and communication, informatics is indifferent to the substrate that carries information. For example, it encompasses the study of communication using gesture, speech and language, as well as digital communications and networking.
The first example of a degree level qualification in Informatics occurred in 1982 when Plymouth Polytechnic (now the University of Plymouth) offered a four year BSc(Honours) degree in Computing and Informatics - with an initial intake of only 35 students. The course still runs today making it the longest available qualification in the subject.
A broad interpretation of informatics, as "the study of the structure, algorithms, behaviour, and interactions of natural and artificial computational systems," was introduced by the University of Edinburgh in 1994 when it formed the grouping that is now its School of Informatics. This meaning is now (2006) increasingly used in the United Kingdom.
Informatics encompasses the study of systems that represent, process, and communicate information, including all computational, cognitive and social aspects. The central notion is the transformation of information — whether by computation or communication, whether by organisms or artifacts. In this sense, informatics can be considered as encompassing computer science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, information science and related fields, and as extending the scope of computer science to encompass computation in natural, as well as engineered, computational systems. Arizona State University adopted this broader definition at the launch of its School of Computing and Informatics in September 2006.
The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, of the UK Funding Councils, includes a new, Computer Science and Informatics, unit of assessment (UoA), whose scope is described as follows:
At the Indiana University School of Informatics, informatics is defined as "the art, science and human dimensions of information technology" and "the study, application, and social consequences of technology." It is also defined in Informatics I101, Introduction to Informatics as "the application of information technology to the arts, sciences, and professions." These definitions are widely accepted in the United States, and differ from British usage in omitting the study of natural computation.
At the University of California, Irvine Department of Informatics, informatics is defined as "the interdisciplinary study of the design, application, use and impact of information technology. The discipline of informatics is based on the recognition that the design of this technology is not solely a technical matter, but must focus on the relationship between the technology and its use in real-world settings. That is, informatics designs solutions in context, and takes into account the social, cultural and organizational settings in which computing and information technology will be used."
In the English-speaking world the term informatics was first widely used in the compound, ‘medical informatics’, taken to include "the cognitive, information processing, and communication tasks of medical practice, education, and research, including information science and the technology to support these tasks". Many such compounds are now in use; they can be viewed as different areas of applied informatics.
One of the most significant areas of applied informatics is that of organisational informatics. Organisational informatics is fundamentally interested in the application of information, information systems and ICT within organisations of various forms including private sector, public sector and voluntary sector organisations . As such, organisational informatics can be seen to be sub-category of Social Informatics and a super-category of Business Informatics.
A practitioner of informatics may be called an informatician.
In 1989, the first International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) was held in Bulgaria. The olympiad involves two days of intense competition for five hours each day. Four students are selected from each participating country to attend and compete for Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. The 2008 IOI will be held in Cairo, Egypt.
Informatics was registered as a trademark in the United States by Informatics Inc., which traded from 1966 to 1985. As of October, 2006, a search of the United States Patent and Trademark database reveals no live trademarks on the word "informatics" alone (although many combinations including that word do appear).