Norbert Wiener's Vision

Norbert Weiner, in his Article "Men, Machines, and the World About," (published, interestingly in Medicine and Science in 1954) makes what amounts to an economic argument. In this essay, Weiner sets up the principle of homeostasis, which N. Katherine Hayles notes in How We Became Posthuman, would emerge and then eventually ebb as a central principle in the pursuit of Cybernetics. The real meat in the article, however is how Weiner focuses in upon the implications of microcomputing:
I want to say that we are facing a new industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution represented the replacement of the energy of man and of animals by the energy of the machine....The new industrial revolution which is taking place now consists primarily in replacing human judgment and discrimination at low levels by the discrimination of the machine. (New Media Reader, p. 71)

Central to this claim is the fungibility of the notions of judgment and discrimination. The idea of a moment of pause and reflection, however brief, is crucial to the economic argument, because it is that pause and reflection that can be used repeatedly and more quickly through the use of automation. The fixing of the conditions around that useful pause and reflection becomes the quixotic quest launched (or at least commemorated) by this article. If external/ecological conditions give rise to this moment of judgment and discrimination, OR if the moment is just too darn complicated, OR if this judgment is not as cut-and-dried (involving indecipherable combinations of electrical, chemical, physiological, ecological, etiological interactions that cannot be isolated and ordered), then this dream of automation becomes the "brass calf, the idol" he warns us against. If we cannot isolate and control elements of our universe fully enough to prevent them from ripping apart a useful and life-sustaining ecological (small e) fabric, then it isn't the gadget that becomes our idol, but rather the very obsessive-compulsive dream of an automated world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn those cylons and their lack of judgement