Norbert Wiener

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Wiener, Norbert

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 cybernetics, 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).


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

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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(39) Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, 2nd edition, Doubleday Anchor, 1954.
Describing developments from the middle of the 17th century onwards, his narrative discusses mathematical efforts to understand the value of options, while emphasizing the role of specific personalities such as Robert Brown, Albert Einstein, MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener, Russian theorist of probability Andrey Kolmogorov, and Japanese mathematician Kiyoshi Ito.
Mathematician Ioan James celebrates the contribution made by Jewish people in mathematics and physics, from Norbert Wiener to Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein.
Byrne draws from Everett's recently discovered unpublished papers, including correspondence with physicists Niels Bohr, Norbert Wiener, and his mentor John Wheeler, and interviews with friends, colleagues, and family, to present a fascinating biography of the scientist that delves into his life and career, family, and struggles with depression, alcoholism, and sexual addictions.
While this book was informed by the work of Norbert Wiener and reflects the hardware-software dualism of first-order cybernetics, Clarke argues that it also critiques the concept of "cybernetic perfection," which anticipates the development of second-order cybernetics.
Her analysis of twentieth-century media theory in this chapter focuses on the cybernetic theory, first expressed by Norbert Wiener in 1948, that the cyborg is both steered by a "pilot" and governed by a "feedback mechanism" (88).
[9.] Wiener, N.: "Selected papers of Norbert Wiener", published by Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and The Technology, Cambridge Massachusetts.
After graduating from MIT at age 19 with a degree in mathematics, Selfridge worked with Norbert Wiener at MIT, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and was the associate director for Project MAC, CSAIL's parent initiative.