Issue No.02 - April-June (2008 vol.30)
pp: 52-63
Hunter Heyck , University of Oklahoma
Herbert Simon's early work in computer science focused on how and why he came to understand the computer, the organization, and the individual mind as being "species of the genus information processor." To him these three were alike because they were, essentially, both organisms and bureaucracies. Part 2 of this article examines Simon's important work in computer science of the 1950s, including cognitive science and AI.
artificial intelligence; cognitive science; context for computing; Herbert A. Simon; Allen Newell; organization theory; operations research; cybernetics
Hunter Heyck, "Defining the Computer: Herbert Simon and the Bureaucratic Mind--Part 2", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.30, no. 2, pp. 52-63, April-June 2008, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2008.19
1. On the development of these systems, see T.P. Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983; D. Nye, Electrifying America: The Social Meanings of a New Technology, MIT Press, 1990; G. Brock on The Telecommunications Industry: The Dynamics of Industry Structure, Harvard Univ. Press, 1981; L. Reich, The Making of American Industrial Research: Science and Business at GE and Bell, 1876–1976, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985; A.M. McMahon, The Making of a Profession: A Century of Electrical Engineering in America, IEEE Press, 1984; D. Mindell, Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2002.
2. One should also note that "automatic" systems with mechanical governors that operated in real time such as clock-controlled automata and Watt's steam engine also had been frequent sources of human-machine analogies. On the relationship between humans and machines in 19th-century thought, see W.N. Wise and C. Smith, "Work and Waste: Political Economy and Natural Philosophy in Nineteenth Century Britain I and II," History of Science, vol. 27, 1989, 1990, pp. 263-301, 391-449; A. Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity, Univ. of California Press, 1990; and P. Mirowski, More Heat Than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989. For examples of similar mechanical analogies in the 20th century, see P. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America, MIT Press, 1996; J.R. Beniger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society, Harvard Univ. Press, 1986; P. Galison, "The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision," Critical Inquiry, vol. 21, Autumn 1994, pp. 228-266; and H. Crowther-Heyck, "George A. Miller, Language, and the Computer Metaphor of Mind," History of Psychology, vol. 2, no. 1, 1999, pp. 37-64.
3. Claude Shannon's information theory gave the new sciences of machines a unifying concept and a ready unit of measurement. W. Weaver and C. Shannon, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1949. On the spread of the concept of information into biology, see E. Fox Keller, Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth Century Biology, Columbia Univ. Press, 1995; L. Kay, Who Wrote the Book of Life? A History of the Genetic Code, Stanford Univ. Press, 2000. On information theory in psychology, see Crowther-Heyck, "George A. Miller."
4. S.M. Heims, The Cybernetics Group, MIT Press, 1991.
5. N. Wiener, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, Technology Press, 1948.
6. T. Parsons, The Social System, The Free Press, 1951. It is interesting that, although his work on The Social System is often criticized as being too static, Parsons's fascination with the mechanisms of adaptation in systems led him back to the once and future creed of social science, evolution.
7. Simon to H. Cirker, 31 Aug. 1953, box 5, folder 202, Herbert Simon Papers, Carnegie Mellon Univ. Archives, p. 1. (The Herbert Simon Papers will be referred to as HSP hereafter.) Simon's opinion of Wiener's work is expressed in a letter advocating the reprinting of A. Lotka's 1925 book, Elements of Physical Biology (reprinted as Elements of Mathematical Biology, Dover, 1956): "As a matter of fact, most of the central ideas that Wiener emphasizes—for example, the relation of entropy to organized behavior—can be found in Lotka, and I have felt some annoyance at the lack of recognition of the latter's contributions."
8. Simon to W. Ross Ashby, 15 June 1953, box 5, folder 197, HSP.
9. Annual Report, Barnwood House, 1952.
10. Henderson and Cannon were renowned for their development of the concept of homeostasis in organisms and for their application of this concept to the analysis of social systems. On Henderson, see J. Parascandola, "L.J. Henderson and the Concept of Organized Systems," doctoral dissertation, Univ. of Wisconsin, 1968; Cannon's ideas are best expressed in W. Cannon, The Wisdom of the Body, W.W. Norton, 1932.
11. W.R. Ashby, Design for a Brain, John Wiley &Sons, 1952, p. 7.
12. Ibid., p. v. Note also that Ashby takes pains to argue that the study will "make no use of the subjective elements of experience." Ibid, p. 10.
13. Ibid., p. v.
14. Ibid., p. 7. Note that a machine's "way of behaving" is directly analogous to what Simon would call its "program." Both concepts also are closely linked to John von Neumann's idea of a "strategy," as described in J. von Neumann and O. Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Princeton Univ. Press, 1944. On the strong interest around midcentury in developing a new kind of mathematical formalism appropriate to discussing the sequential behaviors of adaptive systems, see H. Crowther-Heyck, "The Program Is the Theory," paper delivered to the HSS Annual Meeting, Austin, Texas, 2004.
15. von Neumann and Morgenstern, Theory of Games, p. 54.
16. Ibid., p. 29.
17. Simon and Guetzkow describe the OBL's program in their "Memorandum to G.L. Bach on Research into Behavior in Organizations—Proposed Program," 28 Feb. 1952, box 7, folder 240, HSP, pp. 1-6.
18. Ibid. Also see L. Festinger to H. Simon, 2 Mar. 1953, box 2, folder 71, HSP.
19. Ibid. This work was published as H. Simon and H. Guetzkow, "Mechanisms Involved in Pressures toward Uniformity in Groups," Psychological Rev., Jan. 1955, pp. 56-68.
20. Simon first visited the SRL in summer 1952 while attending a conference hosted by RAND on "Decision Processes." This conference itself was a significant event. Many of the participants either were or went on to be major figures in economics or psychology, and the convener of the conference, Merrill Flood, soon became head of the ONR's Behavioral Models Project, an important source of funding for the behavioral sciences during the mid-1950s. The conference also revealed intimate connections between the various segments of the small world of systems science: of the 37 participants, 21 were sponsored by RAND, 7 by the ONR, 13 by the Ford Foundation, and 3 by the Cowles Commission. Seven were sponsored by two of these agencies. In addition, several speakers reported on research that had been funded by more than one of these four agencies. The Univ. of Michigan's Behavioral Models group, for example, was funded by both the ONR and RAND, just as Simon's group was at Carnegie Tech. See R.M. Thrall, C. Coombs, and R.L. Davis, Decision Processes, John Wiley &Sons, 1954.
21. R.L. Chapman et al., "The Systems Research Laboratory and Its Program, Project RAND Document D-1166," 7 Jan. 1952, box 4, folder RAND Corp—1/7/52, HSP, p. 1.
22. Several works treat SAGE at some length. T.P. Hughes, in Rescuing Prometheus (Pantheon, 1998), highlights its contributions to the developing "systems perspective," placing it in the context of the attempt by systems engineers to control complex systems. P. Edwards, in The Closed World, describes SAGE and its control centers as crucial loci in the emergence of a "closed-world discourse" in which the systems analysts of RAND, certain technophiliac leaders of the military, and many pioneers in computer development participated. In this discourse, the world was pictured as a closed system, the whole planet was seen as a battlefield, the contest between East and West was understood as a zero-sum game, and the key to victory was thought to be the central direction of the global battlefield via computerized communications, command, and control technologies such as SAGE and, later, SDI or "Star Wars." Hence the military's interest in and support of both communications theory and computer science. Other relevant works include D. Noble, Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (Knopf, 1984), in which the digital path chosen for SAGE is contrasted unfavorably with the potentials of analog computing; and S.M. Johnson, "Three Approaches to Big Technology," Technology and Culture, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 891-919. The best economic/institutional history of SAGE is probably K. Flamm's Creating the Computer: Government, Industry, and High Technology, Brookings Institution, 1988. A detailed administrative history of SAGE is K. Redmond and T.M. Smith, From Whirlwind to MITRE: The R&D Story of the SAGE Air Defense Computer, MIT Press, 2000.
23. Edwards, The Closed World, ch. 6; Crowther-Heyck, "George A. Miller"; J.C.R. Licklider, G.A. Miller, and J. Wiesner, "Psychological Research Program for the Air Force Human Resources Research Laboratories Quarterly Progress Report," 16 Dec. 1952, box 6, folder 213, HSP. Also see W. Huggins to H. Simon, 19 Jan. 1951, box 5, folder 206, HSP, describing work at the affiliated Human Communications Research Group (the Bavelas group) at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories.
24. On Lincoln Labs, see S.W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford, Columbia Univ. Press, 1993; Edwards, The Closed World; Hughes, Rescuing Prometheus. On RAND, see D. Hounshell, "The Cold War, RAND, and the Generation of Knowledge," Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 237-267; C. Baum, The System Builders: The Story of SDC, System Development Corp., 1981; B.L.R. Smith, The RAND Corporation: A Case Study of a Nonprofit Advisory Corporation, Harvard Univ. Press, 1966; and D. Jardini, "Out of the Blue Yonder: The Rand Corporation's Diversification into Social Welfare Research, 1946–1968," doctoral dissertation, Carnegie Mellon Univ., 1996. The air force's own Maxwell Air Force Base was another major center for such research, but it was more isolated from the mainstream of psychological research. See Simon to A. Biderman, 24 June 1952, box 5, folder 198, HSP.
25. Licklider, Miller, and Wiesner "Psychological Research Program"; Huggins to Simon, 19 Jan. 1951.
26. Many at HRRL, for example, had trained at Harvard's Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory under S.S. Stevens. Edwards, The Closed World, ch. 6.
27. , Huggins to Simon, 19 Jan. 1951; Licklider, Miller, and Wiesner, "Psychological Research Program."
28. A. Newell and J. Kruskal, "Organization Theory in Miniature," paper delivered to the Cowles Commission Seminar, 18 May 1951, box 4, folder 147, HSP.
29. et al., p. 8.
30. Ibid., p. 10.
31. Ibid., p. 20.
32. Ibid., p. 4.
33. Ibid., p. 7.
34. Ibid., p. 13.
35. These later tests are described in R.L. Chapman et al., "The Systems Research Laboratory's Air Defense Experiments," RAND paper no. P-1202, 23 Oct. 1957, box 4, folder RAND Corp.—The Systems Research Laboratory's Air Defense Experiments, HSP.
36. Simon discusses meeting Newell in his autobiography, noting that "In our first five minutes of conversation, Al and I discovered our ideological affinity. We launched at once into an animated discussion, recognizing that though our vocabularies were different, we both viewed the human mind as a symbol-manipulating (my term) or information-processing (his term) system." H. Simon, Models of My Life, Basic Books, 1991, p. 168.
37. , Models of My Life, p. 111.
38. C. Shannon, "A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits," master's thesis, MIT, 1938. W. McCullough and W. Pitts, "A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity," Bull. Mathematical Biophysics, vol. 5, 1943. See H. Gardner, The Mind's New Science, Basic Books, 1985, pp. 10-20, for a good, nontechnical introduction to these concepts.
39. While it is true that any reprogramming of even a stored-program digital machine effects a physical alteration of the machine in that different circuits are opened or closed, different electromagnetic potentials created, and so on, there is a big difference between such micro-alterations to physical structures invisible to the human eye and macro-alterations involving components humans can (and do) see and touch. This difference plays out both in terms of the capabilities of the machines—microlevel electromagnetic alterations are several orders of magnitude faster than macrolevel mechanical alterations—and in terms of the user's experience with the machine: people began to make human-computer analogies much more often and to take them far more seriously when switching programs became a microelectronic process than when it was a macromechanical, even electromechanical, process.
40. P. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, MIT Press, 1998, pp. 20-21, On the early history of computing, see H. Goldstine, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann, Princeton Univ. Press, 1972; M. Davis, The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing, Norton, 2000; A. Burks, Who Invented the Computer? The Legal Battle That Changed Computing History, Prometheus Books, 2003; M. Campbell-Kelly and W. Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, 2nd ed., Westview Press, 2004; and W. Aspray, ed., Computing Before Computers, Iowa State Univ. Press, 1990. On the history of computing from the 1940s onward, see Ceruzzi, above; A. Norberg, J. O'Neill, and K. Freedman, Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962–1986, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996; R. Rojas and U. Hashagen, The First Computers: History and Architectures, MIT Press, 2000; and K. Flamm, Creating the Computer.
41. The "First Draft of a Report on EDVAC" has been called the "founding document of modern computing." Though it was never published, it was circulated widely, as were von Neumann's Moore School Lectures. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, p. 21. The Moore School Lectures have been reprinted as M. Campbell-Kelly, M.R. Williams, and Moore School of Electrical Engineering, The Moore School Lectures: Theory and Techniques for Design of Electronic Digital Computers, Charles Babbage Institute Reprint Series for the History of Computing, vol. 9, MIT Press and Tomash Publishers, 1985.
42. J. von Neumann and O. Morgenstern, Theory of Games.
43. On this point, see H. Crowther-Heyck, Herbert A. Simon: The Bounds of Reason in Modern America, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2005, ch. 8-10.
44. Von Neumann also defined computers as digital machines rather than analog ones. This concept played an important role in structuring thinking about the computer, for digitization is inherently an abstracting, generalizing technique. A machine that makes calculations by manipulating physical analogs to the system under consideration is necessarily a specialized device; to shift such a machine to another "program" would require alteration of the machine's physical structure. Data and instructions cannot be stored in the same memory unless they are stored in the same basic format, and digitization provides such a format.
45. To those who objected that the computer is still "just" a machine because it's "merely" carrying out a program it did not create, Simon and his fellow believers in AI replied that the same was true of humans, for do we not carry out the program inscribed within our DNA?
46. Simon and Guetzkow, "Memorandum to G.L. Bach," p. 6.
47. Ibid., pp. 6-9; also H. Guetzkow, "Organization Behavior Laboratory Research Working Paper No. 3, Proposal for Second Experimental Study," Mar. 1953, box 4, folder 116, p. 3.
48. This trend is clear in the papers collected in Simon, Models of Man.
49. H. Simon, "Concepts and Propositions for Possible Application to Social Behavior Laboratory," undated, presumably early 1953, box 4, folder 116, HSP, pp. 1-2.
50. This idea of the human individual as a behavioral system finds its broadest application in H. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, MIT Press, 1969, and in A. Newell and H. Simon, Human Problem Solving, Prentice-Hall, 1972.
51. B. Russell to H. Simon, 2 Nov. 1956, box 61, folder Materials for Autobiography, 1942–1982, HSP.
52. Simon, Models of My Life, pp. 206-7, R. Feynman tells a similar story regarding the organization of human "computers" who had to check the calculations of the IBM machines at Los Alamos. See L. Hoddeson et al., Critical Assembly: A Technical History of Los Alamos during the Oppenheimer Years, 1943–1945, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
53. Simon, Administrative Behavior, Macmillan, 1947, p. 149.
54. Simon notes that facts and values are separable only analytically in Administrative Behavior, p. 57.
55. In keeping with Simon's near 50-year obsession with computer chess, Carnegie Mellon Univ.'s Dept. of Computer Science supplied several members of the team that programmed Deep Blue, the supercomputer that beat Gary Kasparov at chess, much to Simon's delight. H. Simon, interview by H. Heyck, 19 Sept. 1997, Carnegie-Mellon University.
56. Simon, Administrative Behavior, p. 136.
57. Crowther-Heyck, Herbert A. Simon, ch. 4-5.
58. L. Winner's The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986) is still one of the best expositions of this idea.
59. "Human beings, viewed as behaving systems, are quite simple. The apparent complexity of our behavior over time is largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves ... provided that we include in what we call the human environment the cocoon of information, stored in books and in long-term memory, that we spin about ourselves." Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, p. 110.