Norbert Weiner: Cybernetics

[Readings] (08.29.08, 4:40 pm)



Weiner begins Cybernetics by posing some of the problems encountered by the growing field of modern science. Specifically, and this echoes Vannevar Bush, he is concerned about the massive specialization in science. He argues, though, that scientists need to be versed in each others’ disciplines. He too is interested in developing some sort of calculating machine, but is proposing an electronic model that seems to more closely resemble what we use today. What is interesting about Weiner’s model is that it is inspired by the human nervous system.

The essential problem that is set out to be solved is anti-aircraft artillery. This is the essence of the idea, and segues cleanly into the notion of feedback loops that will be explored in detail later. This idea involves a certain forecasting of the future, and relates closely to how human action works as usual. Human actions, such as picking up a pencil involve certain kinaesthetic or proprioceptive senses. This correlates in some fashion to the intentionality described by phenomenologists.

Furthermore, the kinds of dilemmas from the problems Weiner is describing are generally solved by pattern recognition. Distinguishing signal from noise, guidance, switching, control, etc. It is interesting to note that the type of discipline proposed by Weiner more closely resembles analytic patterns that seem to be suggested by Dreyfus.

Some of Weiner’s application seems grounded in Gestalt psychology, which is the psychology of the coordination of senses. The sum idea is that the whole amounts to more than the sum of its parts. Generally it is a psychology of perception. One of the ideas that Weiner is approaching with this and toward the end of the introduction, is the idea of developing a fully functional prosthetic limb. The limb would not only need to fill the space and function as the lost limb, but also register the immediate senses, and furthermore the proprioceptive senses. The combination of these seems to unite the goals of cybernetics. Also notably, the idea here is the replacement/extension of a limb, not the mind.

A further concern with the potential of this prosthetic power of computation is its complicating moral significance. One moral dilemma posed is the notion of machine slave labor, which has the potential to reduce all labor to slave labor. While robots have not replaced human labor, this concern is insightful in terms of the economic changes due to computers (divisions of companies being replaced by silicon chips, etc).

Chapter 5: Computing Machines and the Nervous System

Weiner gives early on a somewhat hand-waving proof that the best way to encode information (when there is a constant cost for the information) is to use binary for storage. The logic of some operators is described, as well as the ways of implementing binary logic in several engineering approaches. After that, he mentions their potential grounding in the neurological system.

Weiner next attempts to address some of the tricky details of mathematical logic (such as the paradoxes of naive set theory) with corresponding analogues that could apply to a computational system modeled after the nervous system.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorWeiner, Norbert
Tagsdms, ai, digital media
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