Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hail Dark Hero Norbert

Norbert Weiner [1894? -1964?] is definitely the father of cybernetics – and an influential thinker on the phenomenon of feedback. He was a brilliant mathematician, and, just like a movie math genius in his day and others, he was a little batty. A diminutive Belmont, Mass. Jew with a prince nez, Harvard grad and M.I.T. prof - he was absent of social artifice - as he would creatively and readily follow lines of thought and forgo the important social and practical niceties – unlike thus in manner to a lot of his competetive colleagues during the defining experience of World War II.

Now, cybernetics - the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems - never became much of a science unto itself, except, for a while, in the Soviet Union. Some of its interests informed AI which never became much of a science either. But regulatory system study continues, and people continue to find out things, and they generally should thank Weiner for in some way setting the stage.

My take on reading Dark Hero of the Information Age, a biography of Weiner, is that Weiner could best be considered as a theorist although one who was most interested in practical applications. He worked with engineers, but he wasn’t really of them.

Together with Bigelow in 1942 he worked to build a statistical predictor, or anti-aircraft firing system. Out of such efforts much significant technology arose. But my reading of Dark Hero leads me to conclude Weiner’s efforts were influential but not effectual. His predictor did not improve much on a Bell Labs predictor, although it may have been more elegant and forward looking in design in aspects. Still for me he is crucial.

Dark Hero of the Information Age –

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