THE HUMAN USE OF HUMAN BEINGS CYBERNETICS AND SOCIETY Norbert Wiener With a new Introduction by Steve J. Heims B 'nr. association in which the . The Human Use Of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society (The Da Capo series in science) [Norbert Wiener] on homeranking.info *FREE* shipping on qualifying. The Human Use of Human Beings book. Read 47 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. Only a few books stand as landmarks in social and sci.
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THE HUMAN USE. OF HUMAN BEINGS. CYBERNETICS. AND SOCIETY. NORBERT WIENER. With a new Introduction bJ'. Steve]. Heims. FN. ' association. File:Wiener Norbert The Human Use of Human homeranking.info homeranking.info (file size: MB. The Human Use of Human Beings is a book by Norbert Wiener, the founding thinker of . Print/export. Create a book · Download as PDF · Printable version.
He pulls this off especially well, putting an engineer inside fever dreams of sociology and cognition. We might become entirely dependent on them, or even controlled by them. The inventions in metallurgy which heralded the origin of the Bronze Age are neither so concen- trated in time nor so manifold as to offer a good coun- ter-example. Like any form of information, these commands are subject to disorganization in transit. The chapter 'Progress and Entropy', for example, is much longer in the first edition. If I find the car swerving too much to the right, that causes me to pull it to the left. Only a few books stand as landmarks in social and scientific upheaval.
From these he developed concepts that have become pervasive through science especially biology and computing and common parlance: He wrote, 'the thought of every age is reflected in its technique If the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are the age of clocks, and the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constitute the age of steam engines, the present time is the age of communication and control.
His cautionary remarks are as relevant now as they were when the book first appeared in the s. Norbert Wiener , Professor of Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from onwards, wrote numerous books on mathematics and engineering. Having de- veloped methods useful to the military during World War Two, he later refused to do such work during the Cold War, while proposing non-military models of cybernetics. Heims B 'nr. Sociological perspectives I. Title '. He taught at Harvard and the Uni- versity of Maine and in joined the staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was Professor of Mathematics.
He was joint recipient of the Bocher Prize of the American Mathematical Society in , and in was one of the seven American delegates to the International Congress of Mathemati- cians in Oslo. During World War II he developed improvements in radar and Navy projectiles and devised a method of solving problems of fire control.
In the years after World War II Wiener worked with the Mexican physiologist Arturo Rosenblueth on problems in biology, and formulated the set of ideas spanning several disciplines which came to be known as 'cybernetics'. He worked with engineers and medical doctors to develop devices that could replace a lost sensory mode. He analysed some non-linear mathematical problems and, with Armand Siegel, reformulated quantum theory as a stochastic process.
He also became an articulate commentator on the social implications of science and technology. Wiener's published articles have been assembled and edited by P. Masani and republished in four volumes as Norbert Wiener: Collected Works Steve J. Heims received his doctorate in physics from Stanford University, California. He engaged in research in the branch of X The Human Use of Human Beings physics known as statistical mechanics and taught at several North American universities.
In recent years he has devoted himself to studying various contexts of scientific work: He is the author of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener: Heims G. Hardy, the Cambridge mathematician and author of A Mathematician's Apology reflecting on the value of mathematics, insisted that it is a 'harmless and innocent occupation'. A real mathematician has his conscience clear. Of the younger generation which he taught, Hardy wrote, 'I have helped to train other mathematicians, but mathematicians of the same kind as myself, and their work has been, so far at any rate as I have helped them to it, as useless as my own.
He thought Hardy's attitude to be 'pure escapism', noted that the ideas of number theory are applied in electrical engineering, and that 'no matter how innocent he may be in his inner soul and in his motivation, the effective mathematician is likely to be a powerful factor in changing the face of society.
Thus he is really as dangerous as a potential armourer of the new scientific war of the future. Wiener came to address the alternative to innocence - namely, taking responsibility.
After he himself had during World War II worked on a mathematical theory of prediction intended to enhance the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire, and developed a powerful statistical theory of communication which would put modern communication engineering on a rigorous mathematical footing, any pretence of harmlessness was out of the question for him.
From the time of the end of the war until his death in , Wiener applied his xii The Human Use of Human Beings penetrating and innovative mind to identifying and elaborat- ing on a relation of high technology to people which is benign or, in his words, to the human - rather than the inhuman - use of human beings. In doing so during the years when the cold war was raging in the United States, he found an audience among the generally educated public.
However, most of his scientific colleagues - offended or embarrassed by Wiener's views and especially by his open refusal to engage in any more work related to the military - saw him as an eccentric at best and certainly not to be taken seriously except in his undeniably brilliant, strictly mathematical, researches.
Albert Einstein, who regarded Wiener's attitude towards the military as exemplary, was in those days similarly made light of as unschooled in political matters. Undaunted, Wiener proceeded to construct a practical and comprehensive attitude towards technology rooted in his basic philosophical outlook, and presented it in lucid language.
For him technologies were viewed not so much as applied science, but rather as applied social and moral philosophy. Others have been critical of technological developments and seen the industrial revolution as a mixed blessing.
Unlike most of these critics, Wiener was simul- taneously an irrepressibly original non-stop thinker in mathematics, the sciences and high technology and equally an imaginative critic from a social, historical and ethical perspective of the uses of his own and his colleagues' handiwork. Because he gave rather unchecked rein to both of these inclinations, Wiener's writings generate a particular tension and have a special fascination.
Now, four decades later, we see that the tenor of his comments on science, technology and society were on the whole prophetic and ahead of his time.
In the intervening years his subject matter, arising out of the tension between technical fascination and social conscience, has become a respectable topic for research and scholarship. Even leading universities have caught up with it and created courses of study and academic departments with names such as 'science studies', 'technology studies' or 'science, technology and Introduction xiii society'.
His prediction of an imminent 'communication revolution' in which 'the message' would be a pivotal notion, and the associated technological developments would be in the area of communication, computation and organization, was clear-sighted indeed.
The interrelation between science and society via tech- nologies is only one of the two themes underlying The Human Use of Human Beings. The other derives as much from Wiener's personal philosophy as from theoretical physics.
Although he was a mathematician, his personal philosophy was rooted in existentialism, rather than in the formal-logical analytical philosophy so prominent in his day and associated with the names of Russell, Moore, Ramsey, Wittgenstein and Ayer. For Wiener life entailed struggle, but it was not the class struggle as a means to social progress emphasized by Marxists, nor was it identical with the conflict Freud saw between the individual and society.
In his own words: We are swimming upstream against a great torrent of disorganiza- tion, which tends to reduce everything to the heat death of equilibrium and sameness described in the second law of thermo- dynamics. What Maxwell, Bolzmann and Gibbs meant by this heat death in physics has a counterpart in the ethic of Kierkegaard, who pointed out that we live in a chaotic moral universe.
In this, our main obligation is to establish arbitrary enclaves of order and system. These enclaves will not remain there indefinitely by any momentum of their own after we have once established them. Wc arc not fighting for a definitive victory in the indefinite future.
It is the greatest possible victory to be, to continue to be, and to have been. This is no defeatism, it is rather a sense of tragedy in a world in which necessity is represented by an inevitable disappear- ance of differentiation. The declaration of our own nature and the attempt to build an enclave of organization in the face of nature's overwhelming tendency to disorder is an insolence against the gods and the iron necessity that they impose.
Here lies tragedy, but here lies glory too. Even when we discount the romantic, heroic overtones in that statement, Wiener is articulating what, as he saw and experienced it, makes living meaningful. The adjective 'arbitrary' before 'order and system' helps to make the xiv The Human Use of Human Beings statement appropriate for many; it might have been made by an artist as readily as by a creative scientist.
Wiener's outlook on life is couched in the language of conflict and heroic struggle against overwhelming natural tendencies. But he was talking about something very different from the ruthless exploitation, even destruction, of nature and successfully bending it to human purposes, which is part of the legacy, part of the nineteenth-century heroic ideal, of Western man.
Wiener in his discussion of human purposes, recognizing feedbacks and larger systems which include the environment, had moved far away from that ideal and closer to an ideal of understanding and, both consciously and effectively, of collaborating with natural processes. I expect that Wiener would have welcomed some more recent developments in physics, as his thinking was already at times tending in that direction. Since his day developments in the field of statistical mechanics have come to modify the ideas about how orderly patterns - for example, the growth of plants and animals and the evolution of ecosystems - arise in the face of the second law of thermodynamics.
As Wiener anticipated, the notions of information, feedback and non- linearity of the differential equations have become in- creasingly important in biology. But beyond that, Ilya Prigogine and his co-workers in Belgium have more recently made a convincing case that natural systems which are either far from thermodynamic equilibrium initially, or which fluctuate, may not return to equilibrium at all G.
Nicolis and I. Prigogine, Self- Organization in Nonequilibrinm Systems, Instead they continue to move still further away from equilibrium towards a different, increasingly complex and orderly, but neverthe- less stable pattern - not necessarily static, but possibly cyclic.
According to the American physicist Willard Gibbs' way of thinking, the stable state of a system - equilibrium - is independent of its detailed initial conditions, yet that simplification no longer holds for systems finding stability far from equilibrium. This is an explicit mechanism quite different from that of a 'Maxwell demon' explained in Introduction xv Chapter 2 , the mechanism assumed necessary in Wiener's day.
It is more nearly related to Wiener's notion of positive feedback, which he tended to see as only disruptive and destructive, rather than as leading to complex stable struc- tures. The results obtained by the Prigogine group show the creation of orderly patterns - natural countertrends to the tendency towards disorganization - to be stronger and more ordinary and commonplace than a sole reliance on mechan- isms of the Maxwell-demon type would suggest.
Sensitivity to initial conditions is also a prominent feature of 'chaos theory', currently an active field of research. If, however, we now extend Wiener's analogy from statistical mechanics and incorporate the findings of the Prigogine group - according to which natural and spon- taneous mechanisms other than just the Maxwell demon generate organization and differentiation - this suggests a shift in emphasis from 'the human fight against the increase of entropy to create local enclaves of order' to a more co-operative endeavour which to a considerable extent occurs naturally and of its own accord.
It is a subtle shift that can, however, make large differences. Yet to be explored, these differences appear to echo disagreements that some modern feminists, neo-Taoists and ecologists have with classical Greek concepts of the heroic and the tragic. Wiener's status, which he strongly prized, was that of an independent scientifically knowledgeable intellectual. He avoided accepting funds from government agencies or corporations that might in any way compromise his complete honesty and independence.
Nor did he identify himself with any political, social or philosophical group, but spoke and wrote simply as an individual. He was suspicious of honours and prizes given for scientific achievement. After receiving the accolade of election to the National Academy of Sciences, he resigned, lest membership in that select, exclusive body of scientists corrupt his autonomous status as outsider vis-a-vis the American scientific establishment.
He was of the tradition in which it is the intellectual's responsibility to speak truth to Power. This was in the post-war years, when the US xvi The Human Use of Human Beings government and many scientists and science administrators were celebrating the continuing partnership between govern- ment and science, government providing the funds and scientists engaging in research.
Wiener remained aloof and highly critical of that peacetime arrangement.
More precisely, he tried to stay aloof, but he would not separate himself completely because for many years he remained a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an institution heavily involved in that partnership. As was his nature, he continued to talk to colleagues about his own fertile ideas, whether they dealt with mathematics, engineering or social concerns. The Human Use of Human Beings, first published in , was a sequel to an earlier volume, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.
That earlier volume broke new ground in several respects. First of all, it was a report on new scientific and technical developments of the 1 s, especially on information theory, communication theory and communications technology, models of the brain and general-purpose computers. Secondly, it extended ideas and used metaphors from physics and electrical engineering to discuss a variety of topics including neuropathology, politics, society, learning and the nature of time.
Wiener had been an active participant in pre-war interdis- ciplinary seminars. After the war he regularly took part in a series of small conferences of mathematicians and engineers, which were also attended by biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists, in which the set of ideas subsumed under cybernetics was explored in the light of these various disciplines. At these conferences Wiener availed himself of the convenient opportunity to become acquainted with current research on a broad range of topics outside of his speciality.
Already in his Cybernetics Wiener had raised questions about the benefits of the new ideas and technologies, concluding pessimistically, there are those who hope that the good of a better understanding of Introduction xvii ma n and society which is offered by this new field of work may anticipate and outweigh the incidental contribution we are making to the concentration of power.
I write in , and I am compelled to say that it is a very slight hope. The book was a rarity also in that, along with the technical material, he discussed ethical issues at length. The Human Use of Human Beings is a popularization of Cybernetics omitting the forbidding mathematics , though with a special emphasis on the description of the human and the social. The present volume is a reprint of the second edition, which differs significantly from the original hard- cover edition.
The notable reorganization of the book and the changes made deserve attention. In the first edition we read that 'the purpose of this book is both to explain the potentialities of the machine in fields which up to now have been taken to be purely human, and to warn against the dangers of a purely selfish exploitation of these possibilities in a world in which to human beings human things are all-important.
T he writing and the organization are a bit tighter and more orderly than in the first edition. It also includes comment on some exemplifications of cybernetics e. Yet, even though several chapters are essentially unchanged, something was lost in going from the first to the xviii The Human Use of Human Beings second edition. I miss the bluntness and pungency of some of the comments in the earlier edition, which apparently were 'cleaned up' for the second.
The cause celebre in in the USA was the Oppenheimer case. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who had directed the building of atom bombs during World War II, had subsequently come to disagree with the politically dominant figures in the government who were eager to develop and build with the greatest possible speed hydrogen bombs a thousand times more powerful than the atom bombs which had devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Oppenheimer urged delay, as he preferred that a further effort be made to negotiate with the Soviet Union before proceeding with such an irreversible escalation of the arms race. This policy difference lay behind the dramatic Oppenheimer hearings, humiliating proceedings at the height of the anti-Communist 'McCarthy era' and of the US Congressional 'Un-American Activities Committee' , leading to, absurdly, the labelling of Oppenheimer as a 'security risk'. In that political atmosphere it is not surprising for a publisher to prefer a different focus than the misuse of the latest technologies, or the dangers of capitalist exploitation of technologies for profit.
Wiener himself was at that time going on a lecture tour to India and was then occupied with several other projects, such as writing the second volume of his autobiography, the mathematical analysis of brain waves, sensory prosthesis and a new formulation of quantum theory.
He did not concern himself a great deal with the revision of a book he had written several years earlier - it would be more characteristic of him to write a new book or add a new chapter, rather than revise a book already written - although he must have agreed to all revisions and editorial changes.
At the end of the book, in both editions, Wiener compares the Catholic Church with the Communist Party, and both with cold war government activities in capitalist America.
The criticisms of America in these last few pages of the first edition see Appendix to this Introduction are, in spite of one brief pointed reference to McCarthyism, largely absent in the Introduction xix second edition. There are other differences in the two editions. The chapter 'Progress and Entropy', for example, is much longer in the first edition.
The section on the history of inventions within that chapter is more detailed. The chapter also deals with such topics as the depletion of resources and American dependence on other nations for oil, copper and tin, and the possibility of an energy-crisis unless new inventions obviate it. It reviews vividly the progress in medicine and anticipates new problems, such as the increas- ing use of synthetic foods that may contain minute quantities of carcinogens.
These and other discursive excursions, peripheral to the main line of argument of the book, are omitted in the present edition. He continued to think and talk and write. In he addressed and provoked a gathering of scientists by his reflections and analysis of some moral and technical consequences of automation Science, vol. Cybernetics had originated from the analysis of formal analogies between the behaviour of organisms and that of electronic and mechanical systems.
The mostly military technologies new in his day, which today we call 'artificial intelligence', highlighted the Potential resemblance between certain elaborate machines a nd people.
Academic psychology in North America was in those days still predominantly behaviourist. The cybernetic machines - such as general-purpose computers - suggested a Possibility as to the nature of mind: Thus the long-standing mind-brain duality was overcome by a materialism which encompassed organization, messages and information in addition to stuff and matter.
But the subjective - an individual's cumulative experience, sensations and feelings, including the subjective experience of being alive - is belittled, seen only within the context of evolutionary theory as providing information useful for survival to the organism.
If shorn of Wiener's benign social philosophy, what remains of cybernetics can be used within a highly mechani- cal and dehumanizing, even militaristic, outlook.
The fact that the metaphor of a sophisticated automaton is so heavily employed invites thinking about humans as in effect machines. Many who have learned merely the technical aspects of cybernetics have used them, and do so today, for ends which Wiener abhorred. It is a danger he foresaw, would have liked to obviate and, although aware of how little he could do in that regard, valiantly tried to head off. The technological developments in themselves are im- pressive, but since most of us already have to bear with a glut of promotional literature it is more to the point here to frame discussion not in the promoters' terms what the new machine can do , but in a more human and social framework: Or still more pointedly: Wiener urged scientists and engineers to practise 'the imaginative forward glance' so as to attempt assessing the impact of an innovation, even before making it known.
However, once some of the machines or techniques were put on the market, a younger generation with sensitivity to human and social impacts could report empirically where the shoe pinches.
Even though such reports may not suffice to radically change conventional patterns of deployment of technologies, which after all express many kinds of political and economic interests, they at least document what happens and help to educate the public. As long as their authors avoid an a priori pro-technology or anti-technology bias, they Introduction xxi effectively carry on where Wiener left off. These kinds of 'inhuman' uses seem nearly subtle if placed next to the potentially most damaging use, war.
The growth of communication-computation-automation devices and sys- tems had made relatively small beginnings during World War II, but since then has been given high priority in US government-subsidized military research and development, and in the Soviet Union as well; their proliferation in military contexts has been enormous and extensive.
A proper critique would entail an analysis in depth of world politics, and especially the political relations of the two 'superpowers'. Wiener feared that he had helped to provide tools for the centralization of power, and indeed he and his fellow scientists and engineers had. For instance, under the Reagan government many billions of dollars were spent on plans for a protracted strategic nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The technological 'challenge' was seen to be the development of an effective C-cubed system command, control and com- munication which would be used to destroy enemy political and command centres and at the same time, through a multitude of methods, prevent the destruction of the corresponding American centres, leaving the USA fully in command throughout the nuclear war and victorious.
Some principled scientists and engineers have, in a Wienerian spirit, refused to work on, or have stopped working on, such mad schemes, or on implementing the politicians' 'Star- Wars' fantasies. We have already alluded to Wiener's heavy use of metaphors from engineering to describe the human and the xxii The Human Use of Human Beings social, and his neglect of the subjective experience. In the post-war years American sociologists, anthropologists, poli- tical scientists and psychologists tried harder than ever to be seen as 'scientific'.
They readily borrowed the engineers' idiom and many sought to learn from the engineers' or mathematicians' thinking.
Continental European social thinkers were far more inclined to attend to the human subject and to make less optimistic claims about their scientific expertise, but it required another decade before European thought substantially influenced the positivistic or logical-empiricist predilections of the mainstream of Amer- ican social scientists. A major development in academic psychology, prominent and well-funded today, relies strongly on the concept of information processing and models based on the computer.
It traces its origins to the discussions on cybernetics in the post-war years and the wartime work of the British psycho- logist Kenneth Craik.
This development, known as 'cognitive science', entirely ignores background contexts, the culture, the society, history, subjective experience, human feelings and emotions. Thus it works with a highly impoverished model of what it is to be human.
Such models have, however, found their challengers and critics, ranging from the journal- ist Gordon Ratray Taylor The Natural History of Mind, to the psychologist James J. If we trace the intellectual history of current thinking in such diverse fields as cellular biology, medicine, anthropo- logy, psychiatry, ecology and economics, we find that in each discipline concepts coming from cybernetics consitute one of the streams that have fed it.
Cybernetics, including informa- tion theory, systems with purposive behaviour and automaton models, was part of the intellectual dialogue of the s and has since mingled with many other streams, has been absorbed and become part of the conventional idiom and practice. Introduction xxiii Too many writings about technologies are dismal, narrow apologetics for special interests, and not very edifying.
Yet the subject matter is intrinsically extremely varied and stimulating to an enquiring mind. It has profound implications for our day-to-day lives, their structure and their quality. The social history of science and technology is a rich resource, even for imagining and reflecting on the future. Moreover the topic highlights central dilemmas in every political system.
For example, how is the role of 'experts' in advising governments related to political process? Or how is it possible to reconcile, in a capitalist economy within a democratic political structure, the unavoidable conflict between public interest and decision by a popular vote, on the one hand, and corporate decisions as to which engineering projects are profitable, on the other? We are now seeing the rise of a relatively new genre of writing about technologies and people which is interesting, concrete, open, exploratory and confronts political issues head-on.
We need this writing, for we are living in what Ellul has appropriately called a technological society. Within that genre, Wiener's books, as well as some earlier writings by Lewis Mumford, are among the few pioneering works that have become classics.
The present reissue of one of these classics is cause for rejoicing. May it stimulate readers to think passionately for themselves about the human use of human beings with the kind of intellectual honesty and compassion Wiener brought to the subject. Professor Wiener's indignation at being requested to participate in indiscriminate rearmament, less than two years after victory, is typical of many American scientists who served their country faithfully during the war. He took his doctorate at Harvard and did his graduate work in England and in Gottingen.
Today he is esteemed one of the world's foremost mathematical analysts. His ideas played a significant part in the development of the theories of communication and control which were essential in winning the war. As the paper is the property of a government organization, you are of course at complete liberty to turn to that govern- ment organization for such information as I could give you.
If it is out of print as you say, and they desire to make it available for you, there are doubtless proper avenues of approach to them. When, however, you turn to me for information concerning controlled missiles, there are several considerations which determine my reply. In the past, the comity of scholars has made it a custom to furnish scientific information to any person seriously seeking it.
However, we must face these facts: One therefore cannot escape reconsidering the estab- lished custom of the scientist to give information to every person who may enquire of him. The interchange of ideas which is one of the great traditions of science must of course receive certain limitations when the scientist becomes an arbiter of life and death. For the sake, however, of the scientist and the public, these limitations should be as intelligent as possible.
The measures taken during the war by our military agencies, in restricting the free intercourse among scientists on related projects or even on the same project, have gone so far that it is clear that if continued in time of peace this policy will lead to the total irresponsibility of the scientist, and ultimately to the death of science.
Both of these are disastrous for our civilization, and entail grave and immediate peril for the public. I realize, of course, that I am acting as the censor of my own ideas, and it may sound arbitrary, but I will not accept a censorship in which I do not participate.
The experience of the scientists who have worked on the atomic bomb has indicated that in any investigation of this kind the scientist ends by putting unlimited powers in the hands of the people whom he is least inclined to trust with their use. It is perfectly clear also that to disseminate information about a weapon in the present state of our civilization is to make it practically certain that that weapon will be used. In that respect the controlled missile represents the still imperfect supplement to the atom bomb and to bacterial warfare.
The practical use of guided missiles can only be to kill foreign civilians indiscriminately, and it furnishes no protec- tion whatsoever to civilians in this country. I cannot conceive a situation in which such weapons can produce any effect other than extending the kamikaze way of fighting to whole nations. Their possession can do nothing but endanger us by encouraging the tragic insolence of the militan mind. If therefore I do not desire to participate in the bombing or xxviii The Human Use of Human Beings poisoning of defenceless peoples - and I most certainly do not - I must take a serious responsibility as to those to whom I disclose my scientific ideas.
Since it is obvious that with sufficient effort you can obtain my material, even though it is out of print, I can only protest pro forma in refusing to give you any information concerning my past work. However, I rejoice at the fact that my material is not readily available, inasmuch as it gives me the opportunity to raise this serious moral issue. I do not expect to publish any future work of mine which may do damage in the hands of irresponsible militarists.
I am taking the liberty of calling this letter to the attention of other people in scientific work. I believe it is only proper that they should know of it in order to make their own independent decisions, if similar situations should confront them.
Norbert Wiener Appendix xxix The Human Use of Human Beings I have indicated that freedom of opinion at the present time is being crushed between the two rigidities of the Church and the Communist Party.
In the United States we are in the process of developing a new rigidity which combines the methods of both while partaking of the emotional fervour of neither. Our Conservatives of all shades of opinion have somehow got together to make American capitalism and the fifth freedom of the businessman supreme throughout all the world. Our military men and our great merchant princes have looked upon the propaganda technique of the Russians, and have found that it is good.
They have not considered that these weapons form something fundamentally distasteful to humanity, and that they need the full force of an overwhelm- ing faith and belief to make them even tolerable. This faith and belief they have nowhere striven to replace. Thus they have been false to the dearest part of our American traditions, without offering us any principles for which we may die, except a merely negative hatred of Communism.
They have succeeded in being un-American without being radical. This is a type of feedback. People, animals, and plants all have the ability to take certain actions in response to their environments; in the same way, machines have feedback systems in order for their performances to be altered or evaluated in accordance with results.
The physical world has a "tendency toward disorder. Wiener believed that communication of information is essentially negentropic — it resists entropy —, because it relies on organizational structures.
There are two kinds of possible disorganizational forces, passive and active:. Nature's passive resistance is in contrast to active resistance, like that of a chess opponent. This is similar to Einstein 's view, expressed in his famous comment:. An increase of information, whether communicated by a living being or a machine, will increase organization.
The feedback systems of an organism and those of a machine informational organization in machines does not necessarily constitute "vitality" or a "soul" function in a similar way, allowing either to make assessments and act on the actual effectiveness of previous actions; when such feedback modifies not just a discrete action but an entire set of behaviors, Wiener calls this learning.
The individuality of a being is a certain intricate form, not an enduring substance. In order to understand an organism, it must be thought of as a pattern which maintains itself through homeostasis — life continues by maintaining an internal balance of various factors such as temperature and molecular structure.
While the material substances that compose a living being may be constantly replaced by nearly identical ones, an organism continues functioning with the same identity as long as the pattern is kept sufficiently intact. Since patterns can be transmitted, modified, or duplicated, they are therefore a kind of information.
Based on this, Wiener suggests it should be theoretically possible to transmit the entirety of a living person as a message which is practically indistinguishable from the concept of physical teleportation — although he admits that the obstacles to such a process would be great, because of the enormous amount of information embodied in a person, and the difficulty of reading or writing it. According to Wiener, the "progress" of human society as we conceive it today did not exist until four hundred years ago, but now we have entered "a special period in the history of the world" p.
The progress of recent centuries has changed our world so dramatically that humans are being forced to adapt to the new environmental order or disorder that we are still creating.
Wiener believes the quickness and range of our adaptability has always been the strong point of the human species, which distinguishes us from even the most intelligent of other living creatures. Our advancements in technology have created new opportunities along with new restrictions. Increasingly better sensory mechanics will allow machines to react to changes in stimuli, and adapt more efficiently to their surroundings. This type of machine will be most useful in factory assembly lines, giving humans the freedom to supervise and use their creative abilities constructively.
Beautiful book from the 50's that is still relevant today. I was recommended this book from an AI professor at the University of Texas' Comupter Science program, and I couldn't be more grateful. This was not an easy read for me.
I am a simple lay person. This book gave me many of the answers I've been looking for my whole life. This is one of the best and most important books I've ever read. It's my Santa substitute! Brilliant reflections on the interaction between society, and all the technology based on information theory that was only beginning to emerge at that time. The accuracy of the predictions about the future is impressing, given that they are more than 50 years old. My impression is that this comes from actually having a strong empathy and understanding with people, something that is lacking in many of the people that would usually talk about this topic nowadays.
This is the finest book I have ever read. It's inspiring and the authors conclusions are arrived at through careful analysis and ample premise. Wiener is a genius nevertheless he explains everything in such a fluid and not too technical manor. If I were stuck in limbo for eternity and I could take only one book with me this would be the book for me.
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