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Norbert Wiener (1894–1964)

Author of The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

33+ Works 2,191 Members 24 Reviews 3 Favorited

About the Author

Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) served on the faculty in the Department of Mathematics at MIT from 1919 until his death. In 1963, he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his contributions to mathematics and the engineering and biological sciences. He was the author of many books, including show more Norbert Wiener-A Life in Cybernetics and the National Book Award-winning God Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (both published by the MIT Press). show less
Image credit: From Wikipedia Photo courtesy Research Library of Electronics, MIT.

Works by Norbert Wiener

I Am a Mathematician (1956) 120 copies
The Tempter (1959) — Author — 17 copies
Mathematik - Mein Leben (1965) — Author — 16 copies

Associated Works

The New Media Reader (2003) — Contributor — 291 copies
Great Science Fiction by Scientists (1962) — Contributor — 112 copies
La filosofia degli automi (1986) — Author — 23 copies
New Scientist, 23 January 1964 (1964) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge



Libro difficile, non lineare, eterogeneo. Eppure ricco di spunti sull'apprendimento, il lavoro e in generale lo sviluppo umano che vanno ben oltre quanto nel linguaggio comune si intende per "cibernetica". Wiener fa decisamente fatica a tenere i suoi molti spunti di riflessione in poche pagine.

«L’uomo trascorre circa il quaranta per cento della sua vita nella condizione di apprendista, per ragioni che hanno a che fare con la sua struttura biologica. È del tutto naturale che una società umana si fondi sulla capacità di apprendere, come all’opposto una comunità di formiche si basi su un modello ereditario».
Norbert Wiener
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d.v. | 10 other reviews | May 16, 2023 |
Norbert Wiener wrote these essays for the interested layman shortly before his unexpected death in his seventieth year. It was issued posthumously and seems like his testament. Wiener was one of the towering pioneers of what is now known as computer science. He coined the term cybernetics. Beyond that, he was one of those rare scientific innovators concerned about his breakthroughs' social and ethical implications.
Reading this book now, more than a half-century after it came out, offers an exciting window into the time when the potential of "learning machines" was just beginning to be evident. One of the examples Wiener uses is a machine programmed to play checkers that had been able to learn from each game it played and had reached the point where it would never lose. His expectation that the same would happen with a chess-playing machine took a bit longer than the ten years he expected, though.
Wiener had presented the ideas in these essays in various settings. His assertion that our relation to machines that learn and reproduce themselves is comparable to the traditional notion of God's relation to man seemed blasphemous to some listeners at the time. For some, the indignation was on religious grounds; for others (biologists), the notion of machines made of inorganic matter could be compared to biological life-forms seemed heretical.
There is little wasted verbiage in this book. At times, it is aphoristic. I liked his reworking of the words of Christ: "Render unto man the things which are man's and unto the computer the things which are the computer's." Of course, this is easier said than put into practice. Many of his innovations led to leaps in productivity, but he was bothered by the human cost of workers made redundant by automation, a problem that remains with us.
I especially enjoyed Wiener's account of an essay, "Science and Society," that he had published in a Soviet academic journal a few years earlier. He seemed amused, but not surprised, that the same number of the journal ran a rebuttal—longer than his essay—from an orthodox Marxist standpoint. He suggested that, had he published it in the West instead, it would have been rebutted in the name of free enterprise. His point had been that science made an important contribution to the homeostasis (balance) of the community, yet its contribution had to be assessed anew every generation or so. He was neither anti-Marxist nor anti-Capitalist, Wiener maintained, but anti-rigidity.
Given that stance, Wiener might be skeptical of a reader coming to his book two generations after publication. But then again, his point was not that we should throw out scientific contributions after twenty-years, but that they should be reassessed. I think a reassessment of Wiener's contribution, on the evidence of this slim book, is that we continue to need scientists who are humane while at the same time unafraid to challenge old orthodoxies.
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HenrySt123 | 4 other reviews | Jul 19, 2021 |
Ex-Prodigy is a well-written first half of an autobiography 0f a a Jewish mathematics prodigy in New England in the early 1900s. Wiener is a fine writer, and this is good writing. The Jewish aspect is not emphasized nor overlooked. His was a difficult childhood but seen in a thoroughly understanding way as to his parents, friends and associates, and the telling is free of complaints. The Wieners were lower middle-class citizens.

This is of special interest to mathematicians and those in related fields, but at least this first part of the autobiography is of general interest to anyone curious about that place and time. It is ever refreshing to hear from a clear thinker who does his own thinking.

The final book of Wiener's autobiography is "I Am a Mathematician". I look forward to reading it next. Both are free at archiv.org .
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KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |



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