Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing Before Cybernetics

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JHU Press, Oct 15, 2004 - Computers - 439 pages
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Today, we associate the relationship between feedback, control, and computing with Norbert Wiener's 1948 formulation of cybernetics. But the theoretical and practical foundations for cybernetics, control engineering, and digital computing were laid earlier, between the two world wars. In Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, David A. Mindell shows how the modern sciences of systems emerged from disparate engineering cultures and their convergence during World War II.

Mindell examines four different arenas of control systems research in the United States between the world wars: naval fire control, the Sperry Gyroscope Company, the Bell Telephone Laboratories, and Vannevar Bush's laboratory at MIT. Each of these institutional sites had unique technical problems, organizational imperatives, and working environments, and each fostered a distinct engineering culture. Each also developed technologies to represent the world in a machine.

At the beginning of World War II, President Roosevelt established the National Defense Research Committee, one division of which was devoted to control systems. Mindell shows how the NDRC brought together representatives from the four pre-war engineering cultures, and how its projects synthesized conceptions of control, communications, and computing. By the time Wiener articulated his vision, these ideas were already suffusing through engineering. They would profoundly influence the digital world.

As a new way to conceptualize the history of computing, this book will be of great interest to historians of science, technology, and culture, as well as computer scientists and theorists. Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics


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Introduction A History of Control Systems
Naval Control Systems The Bureau of Ordnance and the Ford Instrument Company
Taming the Beasts of the Machine Age The Sperry Company
Opening Blacks Box Bell Labs and the Transmission of Signals
Artificial Representation of Power Systems Analog Computing at MIT
Dress Rehearsal for War The Four Horsemen and Palomar
Organizing for War The Fire Control Divisions of the NDRC
The Servomechanisms Laboratory and Fire Control for the Masses
Cybernetics and Ideas of the Digital
Conclusion Feedback and Information in 1945
Algorithm of the Ford Rangekeeper Mark 1
NDRC Section D2 and Division 7 Contracts for Fire Control
Algorithm of Bell Labs T10 Director

Analogs Finest Hour
Radar and System Integration at the Radiation Laboratory

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About the author (2004)

David A. Mindell is the Frances and David Dibner Associate Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor, which was awarded the Society for the History of Technology's Sally Hacker Prize and is also available from Johns Hopkins.

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