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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 20

Cybernetics

ANDREW PICKERING

The canonical history of cybernetics is US- and Wiener-centric. It begins with Norbert Wiener’s work at MIT during the Second World War that sought (unsuccessfully) to build an anti-aircraft predictor – a machine which could extrapolate a plane’s trajectory into the future and hence improve the chances of shooting it down (Galison 1994; Mindell 2002). Philosophically, the key feature of this device was that it could be thought of as both a purposeful machine in itself and as a model for understanding purposeful behavior in living creatures, thus eliding the distinction between machines, animals and humans – an idea set out in a classic essay by Rosenblueth, Wiener and Bigelow (1943) and developed at greater length in the 1948 book that first gained the field worldwide attention, Wiener’s Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Alongside Wiener himself, historical attention has focused on a series of conferences supported by the Macy Foundation between 1946 and 1953 as the principal locus for the elaboration of cybernetic ideas in the US (Pias 2003, 2004). Both Heims (1991) and Dupuy (2000) have written book-length studies based on the Macy Proceedings, the former focusing on cybernetics as social science, the latter as cognitive science. The chairman of the Macy meetings was neuropsychiatrist and philosopher Warren McCulloch, the most important figure in the immediate postwar history of US cybernetics (Kay ...

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