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Issue No.01 - January-March (2008 vol.30)
pp: 66-81
Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan , Northwestern University
The historical pedigree and meaning of "information" has been hotly contested since its scientific definition in the 1940s. Scientists have authored very different explanations for the origins of informational research, the scope of information theory, and the historical significance of its findings. This survey classifies the historical literature into genres, offering a view into the changing environment of computer research.
Claude Shannon, cybernetics, historiography, history of information theory, information theory
Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan, "Historiographic Conceptualization of Information: A Critical Survey", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.30, no. 1, pp. 66-81, January-March 2008, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2008.9
1. G. Johnson, "Claude Shannon, Mathematician, Dies at 84," New York Times,27 Feb. 2001, p. B7.
2. M.M. Waldrop, "Claude Shannon: Reluctant Father of the Digital Age," MIT's Technology Rev., vol. 104, no. 6, 2001, pp. 64-71.
3. J. Gleick, "The Lives They Lived: Claude Shannon, b. 1916; Bit Player," The Sunday Times Magazine,30 Dec. 2001, p. 48.
4. Lucent Technologies, "Claude Shannon, Father of Information Theory, Dies at 84," press release, 26 Feb. 2001, 261.html.
5. MIT Press Office, "MIT Professor Claude Shannon Dies; Was Founder of Digital Communications," press release, 27 Feb. 2001, .
6. The redistribution of scientific labor across humans, machines, and institutes has been said to introduce "posthuman" paradigms at variance with traditional narratives of science and humanism. See N.K. Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999, A. Pickering, "Cyborg History and the World War II Regime," Perspectives on Science, vol. 3, no. 1, Spring 1995, pp. 1-48.
7. On heroic, humanist narratives of science, see M. Terrall, "Heroic Narratives of Quest and Discovery," Configurations, vol. 6, no. 2, Spring 1998, pp. 223-242.
8. For more on anxiety over the proliferation of information and communications and technologies during this period, see: W. Hui-Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, MIT Press, 2006, esp., pp. 77-128.
9. J. Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science, Penguin, 1988, M.M. Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, Simon &Schuster, 1992; G. Johnson, Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, Knopf, 1995.
10. Throughout this article I try to illustrate historiographic approaches toward computers through instances of exemplary, already written, histories. In the case of information theory, there is a dearth of "cultural history" (though numerous historians discussed later incorporate elements of cultural history, especially Paul Edwards). Cultural histories frequently situate historical events within popular culture, and are often concerned with popular consumption and popular meaning. For an exemplary cultural history of a technological artifact, see L. Spigel, Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992.
11. Media historian James Schwoch wrote that "the idea of global TV networks was spurred in large part by the global postwar interest in television ... and most of all, by visions of military security, psychological warfare, and concerns about the global image of America." J. Schwoch, "Crypto-Convergence, Media, and the Cold War: the Early Globalization of Television Networks in the 1950s," Media in Transitions Conference 2, MIT, MITSchwochTV.pdf, 2002, p. 3, para. 1.
12. On the postwar centrality of importance and centrality of communications paradigms, see P.N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America, MIT Press, 1996, C. Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945–1960, Oxford Univ. Press, 1994; A.A. Needell, "Project Troy and the Cold War Annexation of the Social Sciences," Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War, C. Simpson, ed., The New Press 1998. For communications' application to managing industrial military systems, see Pickering, 1995, and T. Parke Hughes, Rescuing Prometheus, Pantheon Books, 1998, esp. pp. 15-68.
13. In popular representations and the practical implementation, American multimedia technologies, domestic consumer goods, and new computational technologies were closely intertwined. For more, see B. Colomina, "Enclosed by Images: The Eameses' Multimedia Architecture," Grey Room, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 6-29, noting in particular the treatment of information theory and communications flows on pp. 16-18.
14. C.E. Shannon, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," Bell System Technical J., vol. 27, July and Oct. 1948, pp. 379-423 and 623-656, respectively.
15. C.E. Shannon and W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, Univ. of Illinois Press, (orig. pub. 1949), 1964.
16. W. Weaver, "The Mathematics of Communication," Scientific Am., vol. 181, no. 1, 1949, pp. 11-15, Weaver and Shannon worked together through the National Defense Research Council during the war, and Weaver was an optimistic advocate for adopting military research to a progressive and enlightened postwar way of life in fields ranging from industrial management to literary criticism.
17. "The quote comes from an advertisement for The Scientific American Reader identified in ProQuest as Display Ad 44-No Title," New York Times,2 Feb. 1954, p. 48, Popular press readers synopsizing or featuring work by Shannon during this period include The Scientific American Reader, Simon &Schuster, 1953; The World of Mathematics: A Small Library of the Literature of Mathematics from A'h-moséthe Scribe to Albert Einstein, R. Newman, ed., Simon &Schuster, 1956; J. Bronowski, "Science as Foresight," What Is Science, J.R. Newman, ed., Simon &Schuster, 1955, pp. 385-436. I thank Jamie Cohen-Cole for bringing this last article (among others) to my attention.
18. C. Eames and R. Eames, A Communication Primer, 16 mm, 1953. This delightful film is available online at .
19. Entitled "The Search," this 1954 documentary featured Shannon and fellow military-communication researchers Jay Forrester and Norbert Wiener. The full script can be found in the Papers of Norbert Wiener at the MIT Archives, box 31A, folder 759.
20. "Shannon spoke at the Case Institute of Technology in April 1953 on a panel including his former National Defense Resource Committee director Vannevar Bush and military communications engineer Louis Ridenour. It is briefly documented in News and Notes," Science, vol. 117, no. 3038, 20 Mar. 1953, p. 294.
21. Held at the Hayden Planetarium, among the more interesting ideas was a proposal to refit the Viking Rocket for space flight. For a brief account, see W. Kaempfert, "Astronauts Get Down to Cases in Discussion of the Possibilities of Travel in Space," New York Times,9 May 1954, p. E11.
22. "These ellipses are found in the original advertisement, identified in ProQuest as Display Ad 332-No Title," New York Times,3 Dec. 1961, p. SM106.
23. Interestingly, Shannon's early fame in information theory emerged some 20 years prior to information theory's effective implementation. Indeed, by the late 1960s and 1970s when government funding permitted implementation of Shannon's theorems, Shannon had faded from popular culture. This dissonance further documents the divorce between the scientific/laboratory status of information theory and its popular acclaim. For a particularly useful history of information theory and its applications, see O. Aftab et al., "Information Theory: Information Theory and the Digital Age," MIT, pp. 1-27, . Its discussion of information theory's early identity crises and ultimate professionalization around Shannon's methods (themes I develop later) is also instructive.
24. W. Aspray, "The Scientific Conceptualization of Information," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 7, no. 2, 1985, pp. 117-140.
25. Ibid., p. 138.
26. Ibid., p. 119.
27. By "historicized" I mean rendered intelligible and meaningful according to a given narrative of historical events. Every history I treat puts information research within a different milieu of researchers and practices, suggesting readers understand its importance in a different way. By writing information into new historical contexts and reconsidering earlier histories, every history of information both historicizes and re-historicizes information.
28. A few provisional and contingent choices are particularly pertinent. These overarching categories are tailored to historical accounts of information theory (though I hope they have larger purchase for thinking about histories of computing and the 20th-century history of science) and my own effort to offer a manageable survey of that field. I also favor texts that treat Shannon directly but put his work in the context of competing approaches and interpretations. In some cases, this focus has led to some very interesting texts on the broader milieu of information theories and sciences; in other cases it has played a part in my decision to extract one strand of authors' otherwise multifaceted arguments. Appropriately, such choices and extractions made here are themselves the subject matter of historiography. I hope my article encourages a reading and rereading of these texts, rather than acting as a substitute for that work.
29. My reflections on computer history and historiography have been greatly enriched by the pithy article by P. Edwards, "Think Piece: Making History—New Directions in Computer Historiography," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 23, no. 1, 2001, pp. 86-88.
30. I comment on historiography in the work of Norbert Wiener below; on how the repression of women's role in the history of computing promoted computing as a "masculine" profession, see J.S. Light, "When Computers Were Women," Technology &Culture, vol. 40, no. 3, 1999, pp. 43-73, on the historical origins and mutations of the "paperless office myth" (which Gates adapts from Xerox), see A.J. Sellen and R. Harper, The Myth of the Paperless Office, MIT Press, 2002, p. 231; for comments on the re-narrating and re-representing of computers to develop new markets for their application, see D. Haraway, "The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others," The Donna Haraway Reader, Routledge, 2004, pp. 63-124.
31. C.E. Shannon, "A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography," Memorandum MM 45-110-02, 1 Sept. 1945, Bell Laboratories. Archival access courtesy the British Library.
32. Shannon also worked on a theory of information in his spare time from the late 1930s onward, but he seemed to identify the cryptography report as a place where he put many of these long-simmering ideas together in a written report. See R. Price, "A Conversation with Claude Shannon: One Man's Approach to Problem Solving," IEEE Comm. Magazine, vol. 23, sno. 5, 1984, especially, pp. 123-124.
33. C.E. Shannon, "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems," Bell System Technical J., vol. 28, 1949, pp. 656-715.
34. For comments on the distinction between cryptographic and philosophical definitions of truth, see C.E. Shannon, "Mathematical Theory of Cryptography," note on p. 3. See also p. 49 where Shannon also explains that one of his figures was drawn from work by Harvard philosopher and mathematician W.V. Quine. By the time this same figure appeared in "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems," the reference to Quine was gone. In these small differences I believe we can begin to delineate the different historiographical and conceptual horizon that emerged as research moved from often less regulated environs within Bell Labs to the public scrutiny characteristic of a broadly distributed, often utilitarian, professional journal. For another example of Shannon's much freer, speculative mode in private presentations, see C.E. Shannon, "Creative Thinking," typescript, 20 Mar. 1952, Bell Laboratories, 10 pp., unpublished. Archival access courtesy the British Library.
35. "Ahistorical" in the sense that Shannon's work seemed as if it stood outside history. Much has been written in recent years on how scientific writing suppresses the representation of historical and cultural contingency. See S. Shapin and S. Shaffer, Leviathan and the Air-pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, Princeton Univ. Press, 1989, L. Daston, "Objectivity and the Escape from Perspective," The Science Studies Reader, M. Biagioli, ed., Routledge, 1999, pp. 110-123. On the vexed relation between science and historical exposition, see K. Alder, "The History of Science, Or, an Oxymoronic Theory of Relatavistic Objectivity," A Companion to Western Historical Thought, L. Kramer and S. Maza, eds., Blackwell, 2002, pp. 297-318.
36. A reference which itself literally united Shannon's undergraduate training at Michigan, his graduate research at MIT and AT&T, and his postgraduate employment at Bell Labs. For his early reading and longstanding concern with the Hartley work, see R. Price, "A Conversation with Claude Shannon: One Man's Approach to Problem Solving," IEEE Comm. Magazine, vol. 22, no. 5, 1984, especially, pp. 123-124, for his graduate interest in the Hartley and Nyquist work, see C.E. Shannon, "Letter to Vannevar Bush [16 February 1939]," Collected Papers, N.J.A. Sloane and A.D. Wyner, eds., IEEE Press, 1999, pp. 455-456.
37. C.E. Shannon, "The Mathematical Theory of Communication," p. 85.
38. Ibid. Here Shannon cites the postwar declassified version, not the classified draft he likely read during the war.
39. F. Conway and J. Siegelman, Dark Hero of the Information Age: In search of Norbert Wiener, The Father of Cybernetics, Basic Books, 2004, p. 126.
40. N. Wiener, Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, MIT Press and John Wiley &Sons, (orig. pub. 1949), 1965.
41. Ibid., p. 38.
42. Ibid., p. 39.
43. Ibid., p. 12.
44. C.E. Shannon, "The Bandwagon (editorial)," IRE Transactions on Information Theory, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 3, N. Wiener, Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, pp. 24-25.
45. Of course, it wasn't always "alternative." Cherry worked for a time at MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics, arguably the center producing a rigorous, academic, and scientific cadre of students, researchers, and methods in communication science and information theory during the 1950s and 1960s. During this period Cherry was but one of the many different kinds of researchers exploring this field's promise. Even the hardcore Shannon-partisan John Pierce complemented Cherry's work in J. Pierce, "The Early Days of Information Theory," IEEE Trans. Information Theory, vol. IT-19, no. 1, 1973, p. 3.
46. Cherry republished this primer on information and communication over a series of years and journals. This seems to be the earliest print version. C. Cherry, "A History of the Theory of Information," IRE Trans. on Information Theory, vol. 1, no. 1, 1953, pp. 22-43.
47. For more, see Bar-Hillel's note on the difference between American and British information theory, Y. Bar-Hillel, "An Examination of Information Theory," Philosophy of Science, vol. 22, no. 2, 1955, p. 97, Also see the important attempts to reconsider the cultural import of the Shannon/MacKay distinctions in N.K. Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics"; M.B.N. Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media, MIT Press, 2006.
48. Pierce, "The Early Days of Information Theory," pp. 3-8.
49. For an important predecessor text, see P. Elias et al., "Progress in Information Theory in the U.S.A., 1957–1960," IRE Trans. on Information Theory, July 1961, pp. 128-144.
50. Pierce, "The Early Days of Information Theory," p. 3 (italics added).
51. Ibid., p. 5.
52. Pierce was a member of Project Troy. For an account of Project Troy, see Needell, "Project Troy and the Cold War Annexation of the Social Sciences."
53. For a discussion of the government and commercial programs funding information theory from the 1960s onward, see Aftab et al., "Information Theory: Information Theory and the Digital Age," pp. 16-22.
54. S. Verdú, "Fifty Years of Shannon Theory," IEEE Trans. on Information Theory, vol. 44, no. 6, 1998, pp. 2057-2078.
55. Ibid., p. 2057.
56. The "social construction" of science and technology has been a robust research area for over a decade. Its progressive or postmodernist perspective often argues that social and cultural factors shape and constrain research, knowledge, and technology. At first glance conservative, even hidebound, "institutional histories" appear to be at odds with the more theoretical or revisionist methods of social constructionists. Yet institutional histories' concern for how communities, structural-institutional arrangements, and institutional-social interaction shape research have much similarity to some social constructionist perspectives.
57. R. Lucky, electrical engineer, an oral history conducted by D.P. Hochfelder, 1999, IEEE History Center, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, New Jersey, p. 6; online at iportals/aboutus/history_center/oral_history/ pdfsLucky361.pdf.
58. AT&T's monopoly, peculiar relation with the government, its "R&D tax," and the lawsuit that lead to its breakup are outlined in M. Riordan, "The End of AT&T," IEEE Spectrum, July 2005, pp. 446-448.
59. The lawsuits were filed in 1974, and the histories commenced in 1976. In 1984 the lawsuits lead to AT&T's breakup.
60. A. Joel, electrical engineer, an oral history conducted by W. Aspray, 1992, IEEE History Center, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, New Jersey, p. 147.
61. Possibly self-serving concerns hardly undermine the text's historiographic validity or interest; my point here, as elsewhere, is that disciplinary, intellectual, commercial, scholarly, commercial, and political conflict have consistently made the writing of information theory's history possible. Through these historical, contingent, and controversial encounters history, science, and technology become vibrant, lively, rich, and informative.
62. S. Millman ed. A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: Communications Sciences (1925–1980), vol. 5, Bell Laboratories, 1984.
63. M.D. Fagen ed. A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Peace (1925–1975), Bell Laboratories, 1978.
64. K. Wildes and N. Lindgren, A Century of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, 1882–1982, MIT Press, 1985, p. 423.
65. Ibid., p. 243.
66. Ibid., pp. 256-266.
67. According to economist Paul A. David, the modern research university found important origins in Renaissance European courts, which competed among one another by cultivating the reputation of their natural philosophers (proto-scientists). David contrasts this with more secretive traditions of mercantilist, commercially driven research and technology. Accordingly, I offer the provisional hypothesis that institutional origins may explain the MIT history's unusual emphasis on personality. See P.A. David, "Understanding the Emergence of 'Open Science' Institutions: Functionalist Economics in Historical Context," Industrial and Corporate Change, vol. 13, no. 4, 2004, pp. 571-589.
68. These historians do not argue for a pure science, unpolluted by political interest. Rather, they regard a more realistic recognition of how politics and culture are always integral to scientific practice.
69. This is the largest area of ongoing informational historiography, and could arguably subsume other historiographic genres I discuss. It could also be argued that a number of the texts I call "discourse analysis" are more concerned with material history of some other historical genre of analysis. The most exhaustive text in this area is P. Edwards's The Closed World although I focus my exposition on two key texts that preceded Edwards's account. A partial list of studies particularly concerned with information theory includes these: in embryology, E.F. Keller, Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth-Century Biology, Columbia Univ. Press, 1995, pp. 81-118; in genetics, L.E. Kay, "Cybernetics, Information, Life: The Emergence of Scriptural Representations of Heredity," Configurations, vol. 5, no. 1, Winter 1997, pp. 23-91; in neuroscience, see L. Kay, "From Logical Neurons to Poetic Embodiments of Mind: Warren S. McCulloch's Project in Neuroscience," Science in Context, vol. 14, no. 15, 2001, pp. 591-614; in economics, P. Mirowski, "Cyborg Agonistes: Economics Meets Operations Research in Mid-Century," Social Studies of Science, vol. 29, no. 5, 1999, pp. 685-718; P. Mirowski, "What Were von Neumann and Morgenstern Trying to Accomplish? " Toward a History of Game Theory, E.R. Weintraub, ed. Duke Univ. Press, 1992, pp. 113-147; in mathematics, see L. Varshney, "Engineering Theory and Mathematics in the Early Development of Information Theory," IEEE Conf. History of Electronics, 2004, pp. 1-6, iportals/aboutus/history_center/conferences/ che2004Varshney.pdf; in interdisciplinary discourse, see G. Bowker, "How to be Universal: Some Cybernetic Strategies, 1943–1970," Social Studies of Science, vol. 23, no. 1, 1993, pp. 107-127; in postwar French philosophy, C. Lafontaine, L'Empire Cybernétique: Des Machines àPenser àLa Pensée Machine [The Cybernetic Empire: From Machines for Thinking to the Thinking Machine], Seuil Essai, 2004 (in French); in urban planning, see J.S. Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2003; for a short discussion in the context of semiotics, see L. Manovich, "Chapter 4: The Engineering of Vision from Constructivism to MIT," doctoral dissertation, Univ. of Rochester, New York, 1993; for an account of cybernetics concretizing contingent historical contexts within discursive paradigms, see P. Galison, "The Ontology of the Enemy," Critical Inquiry, vol. 21, Autumn 1994, pp. 228-268. Other important examples are discussed later, as well.
70. See, in particular, D. Haraway, "Signs of Dominance: From a Physiology to a Cybernetics of Primate Society, C.R. Carpenter, 1930–1970," Studies in History of Biology, W.R. Coleman and C. Limoges eds. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1977,, D. Haraway, "The High Cost of Information in Post World War II Evolutionary Biology: Ergonomics, Semiotics, and the Sociobiology of Communications Systems," Philosophical Forum, vol. 13, no. 2-3, 1981–1982, pp. 244-278; D. Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," The Haraway Reader (orig. pub. 1985), 1991, pp. 7-46.
71. Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," 1991, p. 31.
72. Haraway, "The High Cost of Information in Post World War II Evolutionary Biology."
73. Ibid., p. 271.
74. S.J. Heims, Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America: The Cybernetics Group (1946–1953), MIT Press, 1993.
75. J.P. Dupuy, The Mechanization of the Mind: On the Origins of Cognitive Science, Princeton Univ. Press, 2000, p. 23.
76. Heims, Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America, pp. 96-98.
77. Ibid., pp. 111-112.
78. This claim may be more radical than it appears. Even Shannon was at pains to indicate that information theory was first and foremost a process and method of inquiry that bound up the activities, cooperation, and writing styles of its participants. He insisted that findings' validity found their basis there. See C.E. Shannon, "The Bandwagon (Editorial)." Also note that even Shannon's careful definition of information and communication rigidly restricted itself to what he called "the engineering problem," developing its observations, assertions, and research questions out of existing engineering practice and theory. See C.E. Shannon, "The Mathematical Theory of Communication," 1964, p. 31.
79. The effects of this may be most clear in J. Wiesner's account of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, which paints it as a clearinghouse for global information theorists. See the RLE-produced article privately distributed by MIT by J.B. Wiesner, "The Communication Sciences—Those Early Days," R.L E.: 1946+20, The Research Laboratory of Electronics, 1966 (available at the MIT Libraries). For more on the use of educational exchange to promote American Cold War interests, and particularly to secure the predominance of American culture, see L. Bu, "Educational Exchange and Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War," J. Am. Studies, vol. 3, Dec. 1999, pp. 393-415.
80. For comparative study of information theory in France, Germany, England, and the US, see J. Segal, Le Zéro Et Le Un: Histoire De La Notion Scientifique d'Information Au 20e Siècle [The Zero and the One: The History of the Scientific Conception of Information in the 20th Century], Editions Syllepse, 2003 (in French). Eden Medina recently completed a doctoral dissertation at MIT on Chilean cybernetics. Her published, related research includes "Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende's Chile," J. Latin American Studies, vol. 38, 2006, pp. 571-606; "Democratic Socialism, Cybernetic Socialism: Making the Chilean Economy Public," Making Things Public, B. Latour and P. Weibel, eds., MIT Press, 2005. On Chinese cybernetics, see Y. Peng, "The Early Diffusion of Cybernetics in China (1929–1960)," Studies in the History of the Natural Sciences, vol. 23, 2004, pp. 299-318 (in Chinese). This text came to my attention through the Isis "Current Bibliography." G. Moynahan and A. Pickering are preparing book-length studies on cybernetics in Germany and the UK respectively.
81. S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, MIT Press, 2002.
82. Mendel's law of segregation offered a seminal account of transmission of genetic traits. Lysenkoism, a major movement in Soviet Russia, was based on a politically expeditious but poorly reasoned attack on genetics and geneticists.
83. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 60.
84. R.K. Plumb, "Computer Study in Soviet Union Grows," New York Times,27 Mar. 1959, p. 9.
85. Although few histories discussed in my survey are devoid of "material history," a number of recent studies have prominently exploited a mixture of material history and discursive analysis. Edwards 1996 (Ref. 12) and Galison 1994 (Ref. 69) works contain major aspects of material history. Andrew Pickering's current and forthcoming studies on British cybernetics complicate my definition of the material history, and perhaps my genres as a whole. He pursues a materialist history of cybernetics operating outside established, stable institutions. Also, his forthcoming book attempts to document an alternative future that never emerged (the other histories and genres I document tend to more squarely resolve an existing, present-day practice). See A. Pickering, Sketches of Another Future: Cybernetics in Britain, 1940–2000, forthcoming; A. Pickering, "Cybernetics and the Mangle: Ashby, Beer and Pask," Social Studies of Science, vol. 32, no. 3, June 2002, pp. 413-437; A. Pickering, "The Tortoise Against Modernity: Cybernetics as Science and Technology, Art and Entertainment," paper, Experimental Cultures: Configurations of Life Sciences, Art, and Technology (1830–1950) conference, Max Planck Inst. for the History of Science, 2001. See also Ref. 90. For another materialist-concerned historical account of British cybernetics, see R. Hayward, "The Tortoise and the Love-Machine: Grey Walter and the Politics of Electroencephalography," Science in Context, vol. 14, no. 4, 2001, pp. 615-41.
86. D.A. Mindell, Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2002.
87. Ibid., p. 135.
88. Ibid., p. 320.
89. See in particular Pickering, "Cybernetics and the Mangle: Ashby, Beer and Pask," and also The Search television special (Ref. 19) featuring Forrester, Wiener, and Shannon explaining how machines provide models for understanding humans, nature, and society.
90. In the introduction to Mindell, Between Human and Machine, the author discusses his interest in Latourian models of machine agency. Differences between cybernetics and the classic sciences are a particular focus of Pickering's forthcoming book. In a recent email to me, Pickering also qualified my comments in the conclusion of this article by writing "my history of cybernetics is 'tailored to the present' only inasmuch as I think the present is a bit of a disaster," hence his book's title Sketches of Another Future.
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