Indexed on: 16 Apr '11Published on: 16 Apr '11Published in: PloS one
The information transfer rate provides an objective and rigorous way to quantify how much information is being transmitted through a communications channel whose input and output consist of time-varying signals. However, current estimators of information content in continuous signals are typically based on assumptions about the system's linearity and signal statistics, or they require prohibitive amounts of data. Here we present a novel information rate estimator without these limitations that is also optimized for computational efficiency. We validate the method with a simulated Gaussian information channel and demonstrate its performance with two example applications. Information transfer between the input and output signals of a nonlinear system is analyzed using a sensory receptor neuron as the model system. Then, a climate data set is analyzed to demonstrate that the method can be applied to a system based on two outputs generated by interrelated random processes. These analyses also demonstrate that the new method offers consistent performance in situations where classical methods fail. In addition to these examples, the method is applicable to a wide range of continuous time series commonly observed in the natural sciences, economics and engineering.