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Norbert Weiner & Cybernetics LCC 2700: Intro to Computational Media Fall 2005 Ian Bogost Norbert Weiner American mathematician, 1894 - 1964 Entered Tufts University at age 11. Completed studies at 14 and attended Harvard and Cornell. Received a Ph.D. from Harvard at age 18.

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Norbert weiner cybernetics l.jpg

Norbert Weiner & Cybernetics

LCC 2700: Intro to Computational Media

Fall 2005

Ian Bogost


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Norbert Weiner

American mathematician, 1894 - 1964

Entered Tufts University at age 11. Completed studies at 14 and attended Harvard and Cornell. Received a Ph.D. from Harvard at age 18.

Worked on Ballistics during WWII, and specifically synchronized control of weaponry systems (gunnery management.

This led to insights in communications and eventually led to his interest in Cybernetics.

The classic “absentminded professor”


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Cybernetics

1948 book Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and machine

From the Greek kybernêtês: steersman, rudder, governor

Logic, Neurology, and Electronic Networks

Not related to Cyborgs…


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Cybernetics

  • The relations between parts of a system

  • Information, Feedback, Control

  • The intrinsic relationship between the observer and the system

  • The limits of what we know


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Information, Control, Feedback

  • Information as any stimulus, data, or content that can be “read” by an agent.

  • Information is often described as a representational flow

  • Control: the agent acting upon another part of the system

  • Feedback: the thing controlled provides a relation to the controller


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Feedback

  • Circular relations that regulate a system

  • Leads to emergent self-organization

  • Goals regulated by positive or negative feedback

  • Systems map an environment back onto themselves

  • Complex, adaptive, self-regulating systems


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Positive Feedback

  • Produces cumulative effects

  • Divergence; a trend toward zero or toward infinity

  • The snowball effect

  • Chain reactions (dominoes, nuclear weapons), population, compound interest, cancer


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Negative Feedback

  • Oscillation around an ideal

  • Self-determination (the ecosystem, the cell)

  • Designed determination (servomechanisms

  • Goal seeking behavior (thermostats, toilet tanks, non-Norman Doors)


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Don Norman again

  • Visibility

    • Actions should be immediately obvious

  • Feedback

    • Results should be immediately obvious

  • Designing for Error

    • Progress toward desired results should be oriented toward human expectations without resorting to failure

  • In cybernetic terms: negative feedback equilibria from visual, audible, or tactile information flows

    • Approximations toward desired goals

    • Decision Networks


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Weiner: Liberal Humanist?

  • Liberal humanist values

    • The rational self

    • Autonomy and freedom

    • Agency

    • Enlightened self-interest

  • “Men, Machines, and the World About”

    • Address to physicians in 1954

    • The Automatic Factory

    • Computers can take over many thinking processes

    • Humans must not let computers become their masters


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The Automatic Factory

  • “Ultra-Rapid Computing Machine”

  • Functions “like a brain”

  • “Artificial sense organs” would regulate the environment, like so many thermostats

  • Hardware replaces the sense organs of the blue-collar worker

  • Computer calculations replace the judgments of the white-collar worker

  • The unscrupulous get rich at the cost of society

  • Fiction or reality?


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Cybernetics vs. Humanism

  • War Machine

    • Self-correcting radar

    • Automated anti-aircraft fire

    • Torpedoes, guided missiles

  • Systems left to work on their own?

    • Adam Smith, The Invisible Hand

    • The free market economy

    • Healthcare

  • Active Participation in a Community

  • Still not much of a solution: Men must not let machines take over…

    • “Gentlemen, when we get into trouble with the machine, we cannot talk the machine back into the bottle”


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