Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Wiener’s Cybernetics

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Cybernetics and Stochastic Systems (Danielle Washburn)[edit]

To understand the beginnings of cybernetics it is useful to look into the backgrounds of the innovators with these ideas. At this point a review of Norbert Wiener is necessary. According to the International Society for the Systems Sciences, it can learned that Wiener was finished with his doctorate work by the age of 18. He traveled the world going further into Philosophy, Logic, and Mathematics. While at MIT, it was his work on anti-aircraft devices in the 1940s that brought him toward the work of cybernetics. (1) "Two main ideas play a part in cybernetics: negative feedback with its stabilizing properties, and transmission of information, which helps to make a whole of the many parts of a complex system, whether living or not. The metaphor of the computer, with the role of Boolean logic, is also present in cybernetics. It is of interest to note that Wiener, remembering Leibniz's "calculus ratiocinator" and his construction, after Pascal, of a mechanical computer, considered him a patron saint of cybernetics, whereas Warren S. McCulloch favoured Descartes." (1)

Like modern Human Computer Interaction work, cybernetics was also derived in a multi-disciplinary fashion. Besides Weiner and his Philosophy, Logic and Mathematics background, cybernetics also needed the earlier material from Shannon's Information Theory and von Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory. (2) An important definition the International Society for the Systems Sciences gives is the following: "Cybernetics is the science of effective organization, of control and communication in animals and machines." (2) This means we need to be able to regulate input/output even if the unexpected happens. This requires a complex multifaceted system to keep the machine or biological system in a steady state. In human physiology this occurs with feedback loops, gates, etc.. (Knowledge derived from my biomedical engineering background) In many high schools across the country we learn that the United States government was set up with a system of checks and balances to keep the social system in a steady state while being able to adapt as the system evolves. Therefore, the concepts of cybernetics are not only found in mechanical systems but social and biological systems as well.


References: (1) ISSS. NORBERT WIENER (1894-1964). Robert Vallée Université Paris-Nord Sept. 2OO1. Accessed June 21st, 2014 from: http://www.isss.org/lumwiener.htm. (2) ISSS. Cybernetics and Stochastic Systems. Chris Lucas March 2004. Accessed June 20th, 2014 from: http://www.calresco.org/lucas/systems.htm.