Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine by Norbert Wiener

Norbert Wiener 's classic text is of course considered an integral part of cybernetics , but it is also a well known text in sociology (if I have understood things correctly), and in some disciplines of computer science. The author himself seems to have thought of the book as introducing his observations about the likeness of electric circuits (and computing machines) to the nervous system. A work about systems and control. (In a way one sees a faint hint to the Turing test in the equivalence of systems who's input and output are the same.) An extension of which would be the mind of course, though Wiener does not come across saying so very explicitly.

I read this book just after finishing Shannon and Weaver's Mathematical Theory of Communication and acquired both works at the same time. Shannon and Wiener refers to each others research and seems to share a mutual respect, especially when it comes to communication where the theory of course mostly agrees. However, the two books are really rather different. Shannon is modest, precise, and to the point. His text identifies the problem, removes all ambiguous social context, and solves it in a relatively mathematically readable fashion (this is also helped by Weaver's introductory chapters). Wiener the  on the other hand has a much broader style. He is interested in systems, he has theories and ideas, his mathematics comes from nowhere and assume the reader to know more of the background, and he lets his mind wander. He is also very much part of the text. Cybernetics is about him and his research (while Shannon removes himself completely).

The result is an interesting book, but one that must be put into context, just as Wiener put his theory into the context of the 1940s. Seen in light of the technological advancement since its publication and the research which it initiated, Cybernetics is a very important book, and something of a classic (though with its fair share of mathematics). Well spent two hundred pages in my opinion.

The wealth of theories and opinions does make the theory speculative at times, but I found a good deal very interesting, not the least Wiener's thoughts of what might not work. Some of that may be well worth remembering in our times.

Because, while the techniques used in Cybernetics is quite commonplace today, and mathematically we have more tools in our service (not the least from statistics and dynamical systems theory) Wiener's thinking will probably see a revival and audience as work on social network analysis, robotics, and digital life continue.