Cybernetics: The Macy Conferences 1946-1953: The Complete Transactions (2016)

16 December 2019, dusan

“Between 1946 and 1953, the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation sponsored a series of conferences aiming to bring together a diverse, interdisciplinary community of scholars and researchers who would join forces to lay the groundwork for the new science of cybernetics. These conferences, known as the Macy conferences, constituted a landmark for the field. They were the first to grapple with new terms such as information and feedback and to develop a cohesive and broadly applicable theory of systems that would become equally applicable to living beings and machines, economic and cognitive processes, and many scholarly disciplines. The concepts that emerged from the conferences come to permeate thinking in many fields, including biology, neurology, sociology, ecology, economics, politics, psychoanalysis, linguistics, and computer science.

This book contains the complete transcripts of all ten Macy conferences and the guidelines for the conference proceedings. These transcripts are supplemented with an introduction by Claus Pias that charts the significance of the Macy conferences to the history of science.”

Edited and with a Foreword by Claus Pias
Publisher Diaphanes, Zürich, 2016
ISBN 9783037345986, 3037345985
734 pages


PDF (89 MB)

Adrian Mackenzie: Machine Learners: Archaeology of a Data Practice (2017)

22 June 2018, dusan

“If machine learning transforms the nature of knowledge, does it also transform the practice of critical thought?

Machine learning—programming computers to learn from data—has spread across scientific disciplines, media, entertainment, and government. Medical research, autonomous vehicles, credit transaction processing, computer gaming, recommendation systems, finance, surveillance, and robotics use machine learning. Machine learning devices (sometimes understood as scientific models, sometimes as operational algorithms) anchor the field of data science. They have also become mundane mechanisms deeply embedded in a variety of systems and gadgets. In contexts from the everyday to the esoteric, machine learning is said to transform the nature of knowledge. In this book, Adrian Mackenzie investigates whether machine learning also transforms the practice of critical thinking.

Mackenzie focuses on machine learners—either humans and machines or human-machine relations—situated among settings, data, and devices. The settings range from fMRI to Facebook; the data anything from cat images to DNA sequences; the devices include neural networks, support vector machines, and decision trees. He examines specific learning algorithms—writing code and writing about code—and develops an archaeology of operations that, following Foucault, views machine learning as a form of knowledge production and a strategy of power. Exploring layers of abstraction, data infrastructures, coding practices, diagrams, mathematical formalisms, and the social organization of machine learning, Mackenzie traces the mostly invisible architecture of one of the central zones of contemporary technological cultures.

Mackenzie’s account of machine learning locates places in which a sense of agency can take root. His archaeology of the operational formation of machine learning does not unearth the footprint of a strategic monolith but reveals the local tributaries of force that feed into the generalization and plurality of the field.”

Publisher MIT Press, November 2017
ISBN 9780262036825, 0262036827
272 pages
via A.B.


PDF (removed on 2018-8-20 upon request from publisher)
Draft and code samples on GIT

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)