Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of Between Human and Machine
Cover image of Between Human and Machine
Share this Title:

Between Human and Machine

Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics

David A. Mindell

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy

Today, we associate the relationship between feedback, control, and computing with Norbert Wiener's 1948 formulation of cybernetics. But the theoretical and practical foundations for cybernetics, control engineering, and digital computing were laid earlier, between the two world wars. In Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, David A. Mindell shows how the modern sciences of systems emerged from disparate engineering cultures and their convergence during World War II.

Mindell examines four different arenas of control systems research in the United…

Today, we associate the relationship between feedback, control, and computing with Norbert Wiener's 1948 formulation of cybernetics. But the theoretical and practical foundations for cybernetics, control engineering, and digital computing were laid earlier, between the two world wars. In Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, David A. Mindell shows how the modern sciences of systems emerged from disparate engineering cultures and their convergence during World War II.

Mindell examines four different arenas of control systems research in the United States between the world wars: naval fire control, the Sperry Gyroscope Company, the Bell Telephone Laboratories, and Vannevar Bush's laboratory at MIT. Each of these institutional sites had unique technical problems, organizational imperatives, and working environments, and each fostered a distinct engineering culture. Each also developed technologies to represent the world in a machine.

At the beginning of World War II, President Roosevelt established the National Defense Research Committee, one division of which was devoted to control systems. Mindell shows how the NDRC brought together representatives from the four pre-war engineering cultures, and how its projects synthesized conceptions of control, communications, and computing. By the time Wiener articulated his vision, these ideas were already suffusing through engineering. They would profoundly influence the digital world.

As a new way to conceptualize the history of computing, this book will be of great interest to historians of science, technology, and culture, as well as computer scientists and theorists. Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics

Reviews

Reviews

[Mindell's] account of this complex story of engineering, people, and organizations—academic, industrial and govenment—is well researched and well told.

While one might think a history of servomechanisms, feedback loops, and fire control systems would be of interest only to a narrow audience, one of David A. Mindell's great achievements in this rich and multilayered book is to show the centrality of control systems—the machines (and humans) that control machines—to the history of computing, the history of technology, and indeed to American history in the twentieth century.

In contextualizing the theory of cybernetics, Mindell gives engineering back forgotten parts of its history, and shows how important historical circumstances are to technological change... Mindell is scrupulous about providing this historical context; providing biographical insight into the major players in the history; and giving the reader a good sense of what it was like to be a Bell Labs scientist, or an engineer for Sperry.

The book is an eye-opener in understanding who our engineering ancestors were and what they did.

In an exceptionally insightful and lucid account, Mindell shows how engineering cultures emerging in specific institutional contexts profoundly shaped the design of human–machine systems and defined the human operator as part of a larger technological system.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
7
x
10
Pages
456
ISBN
9780801880575
Illustration Description
46 halftones, 36 line drawings
Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: A History of Control Systems
2. Naval Control Systems: The Bureau of Ordnance and the Ford Instrument Company
3. Taming the Beasts of the Machine Age: The

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: A History of Control Systems
2. Naval Control Systems: The Bureau of Ordnance and the Ford Instrument Company
3. Taming the Beasts of the Machine Age: The Sperry Company
4. Opening Black's Box: Bell Labs and the Transmission of Signals
5. Artificial Representation of Power Systems: Analog Computing at MIT
6. Dress Rehearsal for War: The Four Horsemen and Palomar
7. Organizing for War: The Fire Control Divisions of the NDRC
8. The Servomechanisms Laboratory and Fire Control for the Masses
9. Analog's Finest Hour
10. Radar and System Integration at the Radiation Laboratory
11. Cybernetics and Ideas of the Digital
12. Conclusion: Feedback and Information in 1945
Appendix A: Algorithm of the Ford Rangekeeper Mark 1
Appendix B: NDRC Section D-2 and Division 7 Contracts for Fire Control
Appendix C: Algorithm of Bell Labs' T-10 Director
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

David A. Mindell

David A. Mindell is Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author or editor of several books, including Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight and Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, the latter published by Johns Hopkins...