The Cybernetics Moment: Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age (New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History)

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9781421424248: The Cybernetics Moment: Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age (New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History)
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Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title of the Choice ACRL

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Cybernetics―the science of communication and control as it applies to machines and to humans―originates from efforts during World War II to build automatic antiaircraft systems. Following the war, this science extended beyond military needs to examine all systems that rely on information and feedback, from the level of the cell to that of society. In The Cybernetics Moment, Ronald R. Kline, a senior historian of technology, examines the intellectual and cultural history of cybernetics and information theory, whose language of "information," "feedback," and "control" transformed the idiom of the sciences, hastened the development of information technologies, and laid the conceptual foundation for what we now call the Information Age.

Kline argues that, for about twenty years after 1950, the growth of cybernetics and information theory and ever-more-powerful computers produced a utopian information narrative―an enthusiasm for information science that influenced natural scientists, social scientists, engineers, humanists, policymakers, public intellectuals, and journalists, all of whom struggled to come to grips with new relationships between humans and intelligent machines.

Kline traces the relationship between the invention of computers and communication systems and the rise, decline, and transformation of cybernetics by analyzing the lives and work of such notables as Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, Warren McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Herbert Simon. Ultimately, he reveals the crucial role played by the cybernetics moment―when cybernetics and information theory were seen as universal sciences―in setting the stage for our current preoccupation with information technologies.

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Review:

"Nowhere in the burgeoning secondary literature on cybernetics in the last two decades is there a concise history of cybernetics, the science of communication and control that helped usher in the current information age in America. Nowhere, that is, until now... Readers have in The Cybernetics Moment the first authoritative history of American cybernetics."

(Information & Culture)

"[A]n extremely interesting and stimulating history of the concepts of cybernetics... This is a book for everyone to read, relish, and think about."

(Choice)

"As a whole, the book presents a comprehensive in-depth retrospective analysis of the contribution of the American scientific school to the making, formation, and development of cybernetics and information theory. An unquestionable advantage of the book is the skillful use of numerous bibliographic sources by the author that reflect the scientific, engineering, and social significance of the questions being considered, competition of ideas and developments, and also interrelations between scientists."

(Cybernetics and System Anaysis)

"Dr. Kline is perhaps uniquely situated to take on so large and complicated [a] topic as cybernetics... Readers unfamiliar with Wiener and his work are well advised to start with this well-written and thorough book. Those who are already familiar will still find much that is new and informative in the thorough research and reasoned interpretations."

(IEEE History Center)

"The most comprehensive intellectual history of cybernetics in Cold War America."

(Journal of American History)

"The book will be most valuable as historical background for the large number of disciplines that were involved in the cybernetics moment: computer science, communications engineering, information theory, and the social sciences of sociology and anthropology."

(IEEE Technology and Society Magazine)

"Ronald Kline’s chronicle of cybernetics certainly does what an excellent history of science should do. It takes you there―to the golden age of a new, exciting field. You will almost smell that cigar."

(Second-Order Cybernetics)

"Kline’s The Cybernetics Moment tracks the rise and fall of the cybernetics movement in more detail than any historical account to date."

(Los Angeles Review of Books)

"Kline does a valuable service tracing the contrasting fates of cybernetics and information theory."

(Annals of Science)

"... The knowledge offered in The Cybernetics Moment will greatly contribute to any reader seeking an enhanced or more comprehensive understanding of our present-day discourse surrounding information, while also providing a detailed and well-warranted history of the science of cybernetics."

(Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship)

Book Description:

How did cybernetics and information theory arise, and how did they come to dominate fields as diverse as engineering, biology, and the social sciences?

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