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The Distinctiveness of a Unifying Science: Cybernetics' Way to West Germany
October-December 2011 (vol. 33 no. 4)
pp. 17-27
Philipp Aumann, University of Tuebingen, Germany

As it spread into different countries, cybernetics was shaped by the tensions between international networks of scientists and national restrictions set by political, social, and cultural influences. Such extra-scientific factors caused a huge variability in cybernetic applications. This article examines the evolution of cybernetics in West Germany as both a cultural and scientific-technological phenomenon.

1. This thesis is already shown in the title of his book: N. Wiener, Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, MIT Press, 1948.
2. For the efforts of Wiener and his followers see P. Galison, "The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision," Critical Inquiry, vol. 21, 1994, pp. 228–266; S.J. Heims, The Cybernetics Group, MIT Press, 1991; and P. Masani, Norbert Wiener (1894–1964), Birkhäuser, 1990.
3. W.A. Rosenblith, "Norbert Wiener in Memoriam," Kybernetik, vol. 2, 1963/1965, p. 196.
4. The meaning of national politics and cultures for the character of cybernetics is also stressed by D. Mindell, J. Segal, and S. Gerovitch, "From Communications Engineering to Communications Science: Cybernetics and Information Theory in the United States, France, and the Soviet Union," Science and Ideology. A Comparative History, Mark Walker, ed., Routledge, 2003, pp. 66–96.
5. Cybernetics became an important factor for Americanization of German society, which I understand as a part of the wider social and cultural process of modernization. This process consisted of elements such as rationalization, mechanization, globalization, individualization, and the emergence of mass consumption and mass media. This assumption follows O. Bjarnar and M. Kipping, "The Marshall Plan and the Transfer of US Management Models to Europe: An Introductory Framework," The Americanisation of European Business: The Marshall Plan and the Transfer of US Management Models, Matthias Kipping, ed., Routledge, 1998, pp. 1–17; A. Doering-Manteuffel, Wie westlich sind die Deutschen? Amerikanisierung und Westernisierung im 20. Jahrhundert [How Western are the Germans? Americanization and Westernization in the 20th Century], Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999; and R. Kuisel, "Americanization for Historians," Diplomatic History, vol. 24, 2000, pp. 509–515.
6. G. Bowker, "How to Be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943–1970," Social Studies of Science, vol. 23, 1993, pp. 107–127; F. Dittmann "Kybernetik in der DDR—eine Einstimmung" [Cyberbnetics in the GDR: An Introduction], Kybernetik steckt den Osten an: Aufstieg und Schwierigkeiten einer interdisziplinären Wissenschaft in der DDR [Cybernetics Infects the East: The Rise and Difficulties of Interdisciplinary Science in the GDR], F. Dittmann, and R. Seising eds., Trafo-Verlag, 2007, pp. 13–42; S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, MIT Press, 2002; Heims, Cybernetics; R.R. Kline,, "Cybernetics, Management Science, and Technology Policy: The Emergency of 'Information Technology' as a Keyword, 1948–1985," Technology and Culture, vol. 47, 2006, pp. 513–535; E. Medina, "Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende's Chile," J. Latin American Studies, vol. 38, 2006, pp. 571–606; A. Pickering, "Cybernetics and the Mangle," Social Studies of Science, vol. 32, 2002, pp. 413–437; J. Segal, "Kybernetik in der DDR: Dialektische Beziehungen" [Cyberbnetics in the GDR: Dialectical Relationships], Kybernetik. The Macy Conferences, vol. 2: Essays und Documents, C. Pias ed., Diaphanes, 2004, pp. 227–251.
7. N. Wiener, "Kybernetik," Physikalische Blätter, vol. 5, 1949, p. 355. The article was originally printed in Scientific American, vol. 179, 1948, p. 14. Note that all German citations are translated by the author.
8. N. Wiener mentions this example in "Kybernetik," p. 359.
9. As Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak, calls it. This new semantics affected not only the Soviet Union.
10. For example, "'Kybernetik', ein neuer Wissenschaftszweig" [Cybernetics: A New Branch of Science], Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift, vol. 70, 1949, p. 494; , "Review of Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics or Communication and Control in the Animal and the Machine, New York 1949," VDI-Z, vol. 92, 1950, p. 587; "Moderne Rechenanlagen und Registrierautomaten im Dienste der Wissenschaft" [Modern Computer Systems and Recording Machines in the Service of Science], Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau, vol. 3, 1950, pp. 132–133.
11. For example, the biocyberneticist Erich von Holst got Cybernetics in 1951 from the publisher Ferdinand Springer, who had borrowed it from Alwin Walther. A. Walther to E. v. Holst, 21 May 1951, MPG-Archive, III. Abt., report 29, no. 602.
12. D. Siefkes ed., "Heinz Zemanek im Interview," Pioniere der Informatik: Ihre Lebensgeschichte im Interview [Pioneers in Computer Science: Life Stories in Interviews], Springer, 1999, p. 11. Also the computer pioneer Friedrich L. Bauer emphasized in an interview with the author on 15 Feb. 2006 that he had his first contact with cybernetics when reading the book in the early 1950s. He would become one of cybernetics' most prominent critics: F.L. Bauer, "Kybernetik als Utopie und als Realität" [Cybernetics as a Utopia and a Reality], Kybernetik, Medizin, Verhaltensforschung [Cybernetics, Medicine, Behavior Studies], Claudius-Verlag, 1969, pp. 9–30.
13. "Maschinengehirn. Beängstigend menschlich" [Brain Machine, Frightening Human], Der Spiegel, vol. 4, no. 28, 1950, p. 39.
14. "Elektronengehirne. Die Magie der Roboter" [Electronic Brains: The Magic of the Robot], Der Spiegel, vol. 10, no. 40, 1956, p. 46.
15. An early, widespread book about cybernetics was R. Strehl, Die Roboter sind unter uns: Ein Tatsachenbericht [The Robots Are Among Us: A Factual Report], Stalling, 1952.
16. This is also emphasized by H. Zemanek, "Kybernetik," Elektronische Rechenanlagen, vol. 6, 1964, p. 170.
17. N. Wiener, Kybernetik. Nachrichtenübertragung im Lebewesen und in der Maschine [Cybernetics: Information Processing in the Animal and the Machine], Econ-Verlag, 1963.
18. This is how a scientist estimated the relation between public and scientific images of cybernetics. See E. von Holst, "Zur Einführung" [Introduction], Regelungsvorgänge in der Biologie: Vorträge der Tagung "Biologische Regelung" 2.-3.4.1954 [Control Processes in Biology: Lectures of the Conference "Biological Control"], H. Mittelstaedt ed., Oldenbourg 1956, p. 8.
19. Wiener talked at least twice in West Germany: 1955 at the University of Technology, Stuttgart, and 1960 at the Annual Meeting of the Gesellschaft deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte, Hannover. See E. Walther, "Max Bense und die Kybernetik" [Max Bense and Cybernetics], Computer Art Faszination, vol. 10, 1999, p. 360; N. Wiener, "Über Informationstheorie" [On Information Theory], Die Naturwissenschaften, vol. 48, 1961, pp. 174–176. Another cyberneticist to talk in West Germany was Walter A. Rosenblith (1965 in Berlin). See H. Lenk, Philosophie im technologischen Zeitalter [Philosophy in Technological Age], Kohlhammer 1971, p. 72.
20. He describes this entrance in an interview in Siefkes, Pioniere der Informatik, p. 11.
21. The models themselves are presented by W.G. Walter, The Living Brain, Duckworth, 1953; C.E. Shannon, "Presentation of a Maze Solving Machine," Trans. 8th Cybernetics Conf. 1951, Macy, 1952, pp. 173–180; W.R. Ashby, Design for a Brain, Chapman and Hall, 1952.
22. Zemanek, Kybernetik, p. 170.
23. First published as K. Steinbuch, "Die Lernmatrix" [The Learning Matrix], Kybernetik, vol. 1, 1961/1963, pp. 36–45. See also P. Aumann, "Kybernetik als technisch bedingte Wissenschaft und als wissensbasierte Technologie: Karl Steinbuch und die Lernmatrix" [Cybernetics as Technoscience and Scientific Technology. Technology as Karl Steinbuch and the Learning Matrix], Technikgeschichte, vol. 74, 2007, pp. 311–334.
24. The intentions of the move are explained at Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Betr. Institut für Schwingungsforschung, 10 Sept. 1965, Archive of the Inst. of Contemporary History, ED 721/592.
25. See H. Trischler and R. vom Bruch, Forschung für den Markt. Geschichte der Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft [Research for the Market: History of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft], Beck, 1999.
26. This was also the guiding principle of the IITB. See "Protokoll über die Mitgliederversammlung der Gesellschaft für Schwingungsforschung" [Minutes of the Meeting of the Soc. for Vibration Research], 22 Apr.1965, Archive of the Inst. of Contemporary History, ED 721/600.
27. IITB held a symposium on this theme in 1972: "Computer hören und sehen. Kolloquium Mustererkennung über erprobte Verfahren und Geräte" [Computers that See and Hear: Symposium on Pattern Recognition Proven Processes and Equipment], Mitteilungsblatt der FhG, vol. 11, no. 1, 1973, p. 1.
28. From 1961 he wrote several proposals in this case, including K. Steinbuch, "Memorandum zum Ausbau der Technischen Hochschule Karlsruhe" [Memorandum for the Expansion of the Technical University of Karlsruhe], Oct. 1961, Blatt 1, Univ. of Karlsruhe Archive, Acc. 58/05, and K. Steinbuch an Mitglieder der Senatskommission [K. Steinbuch to members of the Senate Committee], 17 Jan. 1962, Univ. of Karlsruhe Archive, 21001/765.
29. K. Steinbuch, H. Marko, and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft debated on this plan several times, and the administrator of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft wrote an exposé. See A. Epp "Exposé über ein Institut für Kybernetik. Material zur konstituierenden Sitzung des Forschungsbeirats der FhG" [Presentation on an Institute of Cybernetics. Material for the Constituent Meeting of the Research Advisory Board of FhG], 1 Jun. 1965, Archive of the Inst. of Contemporary History, ED 721/74. A short time later, the plan was postponed indefinitely and thus cancelled de facto. See A. Epp, memo, 23 Sept. 1965, Archive of the Inst. of Contemporary History, ED 721/104.
30. K. Steinbuch ed., Taschenbuch der Nachrichtenverarbeitung [Manual to Information Processing], Springer, 1962 (3rd ed., Taschenbuch der Informatik, Springer, 1974). The most famous and important Informatik textbook was F.L. Bauer, and G. Goos, Informatik: Eine einführende Übersicht [Computer Science: An Introductory Overview], Springer, 1970. The rise of Informatik and its relationship to cybernetics is described by W. Coy, "Zum Streit der Fakultäten: Kybernetik und Informatik als wissenschaftliche Disziplinen" [To the Dispute of the Faculties: Cybernetics and Computer Science as Academic Disciplines], Kybernetik. The Macy-Conferences, vol. 2: Essays und Documents, C. Pias ed., Diaphanes 2004, pp. 253–262.
31. The history of AI in West Germany is described by P. Ahrweiler, Kü, nstliche Intelligenz-Forschung in Deutschland: Die Etablierung eines Hochtechnologiefachs [Artificial Intelligence Research in Germany: The Establishment of a High-Tech Science/Discipline], Waxmann 1995.
32. The story of biocybernetics is the biggest part of my dissertation: Aumann, "Mode und Methode."
33. See von Holst, Einführung, p. 7f.
34. Its history is written as Hans Marko, "Die DAGM: Bemerkungen zu ihrer Geschichte" [The German Society for Pattern Recognition: Comments on its History], DAGM Symp. Mustererkennung 1992, S. Fuchs ed., Springer, 1992, pp. 1–9.
35. A report of the German Research Foundation concerning the position of cybernetics in West Germany mentions this. Heitz, "Über die Aufgaben eines Schwerpunktprogrammes für Kybernetik" [On the Duties of a Priority Program for Cybernetics], 2 Mar. 1965, Anlage zu Heitz an Gauer u.a., 11 Mar. 1965, Federal Archive, B227/138623.
36. T. Lutz, "Kybernetik: Portrait einer Wissenschaft" [Cybernetics: Portrait of a Science], VDI-Z, vol. 112, 1970, p. 413.
37. See the editorial in Kybernetik, vol. 1, no. 1, 1961/1963.
38. The journal is still published under this title by Springer.
39. These were the main symptoms of cybernetics' disunity following Lutz, Kybernetik, p. 1009.
40. Heitz, "Über die Aufgaben eines Schwerpunktprogrammes für Kybernetik."
41. The mentality of the 1960s, the belief in technology and what the future could bring, is a well-analyzed part of German postwar history. See, for example, J. Abele et al., eds., Innovationskulturen und Fortschrittserwartungen im geteilten Deutschland [Innovation Culture and Expectations of Progress in a Divided Germany], Böhlau, 2001; M. Frese et al., ed., Demokratisierung und gesellschaftlicher Aufbruch: Die sechziger Jahre als Wendezeit der Bundesrepublik, [Democratization and Social Change: The Sixties as a Turning Period of the Federal Republic], Schöningh, 2003; U. Herbert ed., , Wandlungsprozesse in Westdeutschland: Belastung, Integration, Liberalisierung 1945–1980 [Processes of Change in West Germany: Load, Integration, Liberalization 1945–1980], Wallstein, 2002; H. Kaelble ed., Der Boom 1948–1973: Gesellschaftliche und wirtschaftliche Folgen in der Bundesrepublik und in Europa [The Boom of 1948–, 1973: Social and Economic Consequences in the Federal Republic and Europe], Westdeutscher Verlag, 1992; and A. Schildt et al., eds., Dynamische Zeiten: Die 60er Jahre in den beiden deutschen Gesellschaften [Dynamic Times: The 60s in Two German Societies], Christians, 2000.
42. The most relevant work about planning in FRG is G. Metzler, , Konzeptionen politischen Handelns von Adenauer bis Brandt: Politische Planung in der pluralistischen Gesellschaft [Conceptions of Political Action from Adenauer to Brandt: Policy Planning in a Pluralistic Society], Schöningh, 2005.
43. This was explicitly proposed, for example, by the minister of research and education of the German federal state Lower Saxonia: E. Pestel, "Prognose und Systemforschung" [Prognosis and System Research], DFG-Mitteilungen, vol. 9, no. 1, 1977, pp. 3–5, 21.
44. The claim for leadership of engineers in postwar FRG and debates about it are described by D. van Laak, "Das technokratische Momentum in der deutschen Nachkriegsgeschichte" [The Technocratic Momentum in Postwar German History], Abele, Innovationskulturen, pp. 89–104.
45. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 300.
46. "Bildungsnotstand. Begrenzt haltbar" [Education Crisis: Limited Shelf Life], Der Spiegel, vol. 22, no. 17, 1968, p. 177.
47. The most important scientist who popularized cybernetics was Karl Steinbuch. His central book was the bestseller K. Steinbuch, Automat und Mensch: Über menschliche und maschinelle Intelligenz [Man and Machine: About Human and Machine Intelligence], Springer, 1961 (4th ed., 1971).
48. Following sociological theory, this is the usual relation between science and public expectations. See P. Weingart, "Die Zügellosigkeit der Erkenntnisproduktion und die Demokratisierung der Gesellschaft: Zur Rolle ethischer und politischer Kontrollen der Wissenschaft in Humangenetik und Reproduktionsbiologie" [The Licentiousness of Knowledge Production and the Democratization of Society: The Role of Ethical and Political Control of Science in Human Genetics and Reproductive Biology], Die Wissenschaft der Öffentlichkeit: Essays zum Verhältnis von Wissenschaft, Medien und Öffentlichkeit [The Science of the Public: Essays on the Relationship between Science, Media and Public], Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2005, p. 43.
49. R. Edwards, "Was hält der Steuerzahler von der Wissenschaft? Bemerkenswert positives Ergebnis einer Meinungsumfrage" [What is the Taxpayer's Opinion of Science? Remarkable Positive Result of an Opinion Poll], Mitteilungsblatt der FhG, vol. 7, nos. 3–4, 1969, p. 6. This article briefly shows the Germans' image about science, technology, and innovation.
50. The feeling of an American challenge is expressed by the bestseller J.-J. Servan-Schreiber, Le défi americain [The American Challenge], Denoël, 1967. The book was also popular in West Germany.
51. The American cyberneticist Walter A. Rosenblith emphasized this in 1965 during a talk in Germany. See W.A. Rosenblith, "Cybernetics Seventeen Years Later. Kolloquium im Fortgeschrittenenstudium 'Brennpunkt Kybernetik' an der TU Berlin am 25.6.1965" [Colloquium in Advanced Studies 'Focus Cybernetics' at TU Berlin on 25/06/1965], Lenk, Philosophie, p. 72. For the same argument in a historiographical perspective, see J. Seppänen, "Systems Ideology in Human and Social Sciences: History and Philosophy of Systems and Model Thinking, Information Theory and Cybernetics," Systems: New Paradigms for the Human Sciences, G. Altmann, and W.A. Koch eds., De Gruyter, 1998, p. 238.
52. This is how Heinz Zemanek evaluated the situation in the US from a contemporary, but external viewpoint. Zemanek, Kybernetik, p. 173.
53. D. Mindell, , Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control and Computing Before Cybernetics, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2002, p. 316. See also Kline, Cybernetics.
54. Mindell, Communications Engineering, p. 85. See pp. 74–81 for an overview of cybernetics in France.
55. This is a central argument of Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak, see p. 4.
56. This is also claimed by Dittmann, Kybernetik, p. 15.
57. This is the result of the international comparison Mindell, Communications Engineering, p. 89.

Index Terms:
History of computing, cybernetics, West Germany, artificial intelligence, popular science,
Philipp Aumann, "The Distinctiveness of a Unifying Science: Cybernetics' Way to West Germany," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 17-27, Oct.-Dec. 2011, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2011.78
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