Norbert Wiener

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Wiener, Norbert,

1894–1964, American mathematician, educator, and founder of the field of cybernetics, b. Columbia, Mo., grad. Tufts College, 1909, Ph.D. Harvard, 1913. In 1920 he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became (1932) professor of mathematics. He made significant contributions to a number of areas of mathematics including harmonic analysis and Fourier transforms, but is best known for his theory of cyberneticscybernetics
[Gr.,=steersman], term coined by American mathematician Norbert Wiener to refer to the general analysis of control systems and communication systems in living organisms and machines.
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, the comparative study of control and communication in humans and machines. He also made significant contributions to the development of computers and calculators. Wiener recounted his youth and training in the autobiographical Ex-Prodigy (1953). He described his mature years and scientific career in I Am a Mathematician (1956). His other writings include The Human Use of Human Beings (1950), Nonlinear Problems in Random Theory (1958), and Cybernetics (1948, rev. ed. 1961).

Bibliography

See F. Conway and J. Siegelman, Dark Hero of the Information Age (2004).

Wiener, Norbert

 

Born Nov. 26, 1894, in Columbia, Mo.; died Mar. 19, 1964, in Stockholm. American scientist.

Wiener mastered higher mathematics by the age of 14 and was awarded the doctorate of philosophy by Harvard University at the age of 18. His early development is reflected in his book Ex-Prodigy (1953). In 1919 he became an instructor and in 1932 a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He engaged in the study of mathematical logic and theoretical physics. He attained fame as a mathematician in the 1920’s and 1930’s for his works on potential theory, harmonic functions, Fourier series and transforms, Tauberian theorems, and general harmonic analysis. The measure he introduced in the space of continuous functions (the“Wiener measure”) acquired great importance in the theory of random processes.

During World War II (1939-45), Wiener engaged in the study of electrical networks and computer technology, particularly in connection with ballistic calculations. Somewhat later than A. N. Kolmogorov but independent of him, Wiener developed the theory of the interpolation and extrapolation of stationary random processes. The theory of“filtration” he developed for such processes acquired extensive technological application.

From 1945 to 1947, Wiener worked at a cardiological institute in Mexico City. During this period he conceived the notion that it was necessary to create a unified science to study the processes of governing, control, and information storage and processing. He proposed that the science be called cybernetics, and this name attained general recognition. Of course, the concrete content of this new field of knowledge was not solely Wiener’s creation. The ideas of C. Shannon, for example, played a considerable role in the formation of cybernetics. But without a doubt, Wiener’s was the foremost role in spreading the importance of cybernetics throughout the system of human knowledge.

Wiener’s philosophical and sociological views were eclectic. However, his persistent statements concerning the moral responsibility of scientists in the preservation of peace and the struggle against the use of the achievements of science in aggressive military policies should be noted. His ideas on the possibility of a“rebellion of the machines” found great response in the works of science fiction writers.

WORKS

lamatematik, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.
Integral Fur’e i nekotorye ego prilozheniia. Moscow, 1963.
Preobrazovanie Fur’e v kompleksnoi oblasti. Moscow, 1964. (With R. Paley.)
Kibernetika, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Kibernetika i obshchestvo. Moscow, 1958.
Novye glavy kibernetiki. Moscow, 1963.

A. N. KOLMOGOROV

Wiener, Norbert

(1894–1964) mathematician, communication theorist; born in Columbia, Mo. A child prodigy, he graduated from Tufts College at age 14, did graduate work at Harvard and Cornell, read philosophy at Cambridge University under Bertrand Russell, and then worked as an editor and taught philosophy and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before settling into its mathematics department (1919–64). During World War I he had done some special mathematics for the U.S. Army and in World War II he worked on developing high-speed electronic computer radar. Most of his early work in such fields as stochastic processes and harmonic analysis were too esoteric and complex for the public, but in 1948 he published Cybernetics —he coined the word from the Greek for "steersman," and "cyber-" would become a commonly used prefix. Although it relied on such terms as "feedback," "input," "output," and "homeostasis," the book was written in a relatively accessible way and was the first work to inform an only dimly aware public of what was to be the wave of the future—the communication theory that would underlie the handling of information by electronic devices, namely computers. Known for various personal quirks, he had a reputation for being a terrible lecturer and a poor listener, and he could be both inappropriately pompous and playful. His fellow mathematicians would often criticize his work but he remained a bridge between the leading edge of scientific thought and a broader public with such books as The Human Use of Human Beings (1950) and Gold and Golem, Inc. (1964). He was awarded the National Medal of Science (1964) in recognition of his pathbreaking work.
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