Steve Joshua Heims: The Cybernetics Group (1991)

19 September 2017, dusan

“This is the engaging story of a moment of transformation in the human sciences, a detailed account of a remarkable group of people who met regularly from 1946 to 1953 to explore the possibility of using scientific ideas that had emerged in the war years (cybernetics, information theory, computer theory) as a basis for interdisciplinary alliances. The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, as they came to be called, included such luminaries as Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Kurt Lewin, F. S. C. Northrop, Molly Harrower, and Lawrence Kubie, who thought and argued together about such topics as insanity, vision, circular causality, language, the brain as a digital machine, and how to make wise decisions.

Heims, who met and talked with many of the participants, portrays them not only as thinkers but as human beings. His account examines how the conduct and content of research are shaped by the society in which it occurs and how the spirit of the times, in this case a mixture of postwar confidence and cold-war paranoia, affected the thinking of the cybernetics group. He uses the meetings to explore the strong influence elite groups can have in establishing connections and agendas for research and provides a firsthand took at the emergence of paradigms that were to become central to the new fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

In his joint biography of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener, Heims offered a challenging interpretation of the development of recent American science and technology. Here, in this group portrait of an important generation of American intellectuals, Heims extends that interpretation to a broader canvas, in the process paying special attention to the two iconoclastic figures, Warren McCulloch and Gregory Bateson, whose ideas on the nature of the mind/brain and on holism are enjoying renewal today.”

Paperback edition appeared under the title Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America: The Cybernetics Group (1946–1953) in 1993.

Publisher MIT Press, 1991
ISBN 0262082004, 9780262082006
xii+334 pages

Reviews: N. Katherine Hayles (Hist Human Sciences, 1992), R.V. Jones (New Scientist, 1992), Carlos A. Martínez-Vela (2001).


PDF (3 MB, updated on 2018-7-25)

David Link: Archaeology of Algorithmic Artefacts (2016)

24 November 2016, dusan

“Unearthing the cumulus of transient technologies that underlie the fabric of contemporary society

As historical processes increasingly become steeped in technology, it becomes more and more necessary for a discipline to emerge that is capable of comprehending these materialities beyond their shelf life to better understand the fields they inundate such as science, art, and warfare. This effort is further compromised by the inherent complexity and complete arbitrariness of technical languages – especially when they are algorithmic – along with the rapid pace in which they become obsolete, unintelligible, or simply forgotten. The Turing Machine plays a central role in the Archaeology of Algorithmic Artefacts, wherein the gradual developments of the individual components encompassed by this complex technology are placed within the context of engineering sciences and the history of inventions. This genealogy also traces the origin of the computer in disciplines such as mathematics, meta-mathematics, combinatorics, cryptology, philosophy, and physics. The investigations reveal that the history of apparatuses that process signs is in no way limited, as one might think, to the second half of the 20th century, rather it is possible that they existed at all times and in all cultures.”

Publisher Univocal Publishing, Minneapolis, 2016
ISBN 9781937561048, 1937561046
207 pages

Review: Lisa Gitelman (Computational Culture, 2017).


PDF (18 MB)

Jean-Luc Chabert, et al.: A History of Algorithms: From the Pebble to the Microchip (1994–) [French, English]

11 September 2014, dusan

A source book for the history of mathematics, but one which offers a different perspective by focusing on algorithms. With the development of computing has come an awakening of interest in algorithms. Often neglegted by historians and modern scientists, more concerned with the nature of concepts, algorithmic procedures turn out to have been instrumental in the development of fundamental ideas: practice led to theory just as much as the other way round. The purpose of this book is to offer a historical background to contemporary algorithmic practice. Each chapter centres around a theme, more or less in chronological order, and the story is told through the reading of over 200 original texts, faithfully reproduced. This provides an opportunity for the reader to sit alongside such mathematicians as Archimedes, Omar Khayyam, Newton, Euler and Gauss as they explain their techniques. The book ends with an account of the development of the modern concept of algorithm.

With Évelyne Barbin, Michel Guillemot, Anne Michel-Pajus, Jacques Borowczyk, Ahmed Djebbar, and Jean-Claude Martzloff
Publisher Belin, Paris, 1994
ISBN 2701113466, 9782701113463
591 pages

English edition
Translated by Chris Weeks
Publisher Springer, 1999
ISBN 3540633693
524 pages

Publisher (FR, new edition)
Publisher (EN)

Histoire d’algorithmes: du caillou à la puce (French, DJVU, 10 MB)
A History of Algorithms: From the Pebble to the Microchip (English, DJVU, 6 MB)

See also, a platform for viewing, creating and sharing algorithms.