From Rosenblueth to Richmond: A Historical Review of Cybernetics

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From Rosenblueth to Richmond is a one-hour historical review of cybernetics that was delivered by Randall Whitaker on August 10th 2011 in the context of the American Society for Cybernetics’ Conference on Listening.

Synopsis: Ask someone on the street what ‘cybernetics’ is, and they’re likely to say it’s got something to do with robots, computers, and / or the Internet. Ask someone in academia, and they’re likely to say it’s an antiquated atomic era meme or a transdisciplinary experiment that spawned (e.g.) robotics, AI, control theory, and a variety of organizational management theories before fading away. Ask anyone why a cybernetics society would hold a conference on ‘listening’, and the likely response would be ‘huh?!?’. This tutorial will provide a historical review of selected themes and developments explaining how ‘cybernetics’ isn’t what most people think it is, and why in its current second-order form cybernetics indeed has a proper interest in interpersonal communication (e.g., ‘listening’).

In this tutorial Randall Whitaker makes important contributions to the field of cybernetics, including the recognition of the pivotal role played by Arturo Rosenblueth in the development of cybernetics, as well as a sketch for a new definition of cybernetics as “not so much control or communication per se, but the notion that the trajectory of a behaviour is mediated by reference to something else”.

Recording and editing: Thomas Fischer

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