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The Cybernetics Moment

Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age

Ronald R. Kline

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How did cybernetics and information theory arise, and how did they come to dominate fields as diverse as engineering, biology, and the social sciences?

Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title of the Choice ACRL

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Cybernetics—the science of communication and control as it applies to machines and to humans—originates from efforts during World War II to build automatic antiaircraft systems. Following the war, this science extended beyond military needs to examine all systems that rely on information and feedback, from the level of the cell to that of society…

How did cybernetics and information theory arise, and how did they come to dominate fields as diverse as engineering, biology, and the social sciences?

Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title of the Choice ACRL

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Cybernetics—the science of communication and control as it applies to machines and to humans—originates from efforts during World War II to build automatic antiaircraft systems. Following the war, this science extended beyond military needs to examine all systems that rely on information and feedback, from the level of the cell to that of society. In The Cybernetics Moment, Ronald R. Kline, a senior historian of technology, examines the intellectual and cultural history of cybernetics and information theory, whose language of "information," "feedback," and "control" transformed the idiom of the sciences, hastened the development of information technologies, and laid the conceptual foundation for what we now call the Information Age.

Kline argues that, for about twenty years after 1950, the growth of cybernetics and information theory and ever-more-powerful computers produced a utopian information narrative—an enthusiasm for information science that influenced natural scientists, social scientists, engineers, humanists, policymakers, public intellectuals, and journalists, all of whom struggled to come to grips with new relationships between humans and intelligent machines.

Kline traces the relationship between the invention of computers and communication systems and the rise, decline, and transformation of cybernetics by analyzing the lives and work of such notables as Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, Warren McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Herbert Simon. Ultimately, he reveals the crucial role played by the cybernetics moment—when cybernetics and information theory were seen as universal sciences—in setting the stage for our current preoccupation with information technologies.

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The Cybernetics Moment

Ronald R. Kline

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Reviews

Nowhere in the burgeoning secondary literature on cybernetics in the last two decades is there a concise history of cybernetics, the science of communication and control that helped usher in the current information age in America. Nowhere, that is, until now... Readers have in The Cybernetics Moment the first authoritative history of American cybernetics.

[A]n extremely interesting and stimulating history of the concepts of cybernetics... This is a book for everyone to read, relish, and think about.

Dr. Kline is perhaps uniquely situated to take on so large and complicated [a] topic as cybernetics... Readers unfamiliar with Wiener and his work are well advised to start with this well-written and thorough book. Those who are already familiar will still find much that is new and informative in the thorough research and reasoned interpretations.

The most comprehensive intellectual history of cybernetics in Cold War America.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
352
ISBN
9781421424248
Illustration Description
6 halftones, 4 line drawings
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. War and Information Theory
2. Circular Causality
3. The Cybernetics Craze
4. The Information Bandwagon
5. Humans as Machines
6. Machines as Human
7. Cybernetics in Crisis
8

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. War and Information Theory
2. Circular Causality
3. The Cybernetics Craze
4. The Information Bandwagon
5. Humans as Machines
6. Machines as Human
7. Cybernetics in Crisis
8. Inventing an Information Age
9. Two Cybernetic Frontiers
Abbreviations
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Ronald R. Kline, Ph.D.

Ronald R. Kline is the Bovay Professor in History and Ethics of Engineering at Cornell University. He is the author of Steinmetz: Engineer and Socialist and Consumers in the Country: Technology and Social Change in Rural America.