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The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  587 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Only a few books stand as landmarks in social and scientific upheaval. Norbert Wiener's classic is one in that small company. Founder of the science of cybernetics—the study of the relationship between computers and the human nervous system—Wiener was widely misunderstood as one who advocated the automation of human life. As this book reveals, his vision was much more comp ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published March 22nd 1988 by Da Capo Press (first published November 30th 1949)
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May 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Thoughts on accelerated change, the singularity, neuroscience, evolution, and more from a man who refers to the last decade of the 19th century as "the nineties".

This book is the forerunner to a line of fantastic (yet, at times, exaggerated) works straddling mathematics, machines, and biology, known as the "cybernetics" movement. At times, this book suffers from the same affliction that Akira Kirosawa's films do - they seem cliched and unoriginal to the modern reader/viewer who has grown up in a
Chris Wells
Mar 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
(my review for Amazon)

More than fifty years after its initial publication, this book remains as relevant and prophetic as it is brilliant and exhilarating.

To start, Wiener explains cybernetics in a way that the intelligent layperson can understand; he discusses how human beings, animals, and machines relate to one another through communication and feedback, thus becoming systems that limit or temporarily reverse the universal tendency toward disorganization (entropy). After establishing this fra
Ben Peters
Sep 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
A brilliant, wild little book from a polymath of prodigious proportions, it summarizes his seminal and baffling Cybernetics (1948) and extends an early critique of the information society. Written amid postwar froth, Wiener vaults a theory of communication and control meant to help stabilize any agent (quantum, chemical, biological, human, mechanical, social) into a sweeping philosophically informed lattice of "communal information." A must read for anyone interested in cold war history, philoso ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This is the kind of book that used to be written when scientists and science writers were philosophically literate.
Mar 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cultural-study
Wiener’s discussion relates engineering to a number of issues: game theory, language, biology, consumer economy, social theory, art.
vi macdonald
Aug 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Clearly an incredibly significant text in terms of its influence on how we discuss technology, and especially how we discuss its relationship to society. But, unfortunately, the fact it's incredibly influential does detract from the experience of reading it. Almost every discussion point, all of which must have been stunning revelations in 1950, feel completely obvious to contemporary ears. That's the problem with being on the cutting edge: if you're right in your estimations, then your theses w ...more
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The individual technical details have dated a little, hence the docked star -- chess computers now routinely beat human players, for one. I also felt the book hopscotches around a little too much -- there isn't as much of a sense of a through-line with all the arguments, so it feels more like an anthology of essays around a single conceit rather than a work conceived formally end-to-end. But the moral, ethical, and social implications that Wiener outlines in this book have only become more urgen ...more
Ask Franck
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. Provided a solid next step in my curiosity / obsession with information theory.

The simultaneous breadth and depth of subject he is able to speak significantly about is astonishing, if a little chaotic at times.

Skipped a few pages toward the end that felt too boring and detailed.

Otherwise, some very good parts in there, and his ability to put information theory in perspective is great.

It’s nice to hear from a guy who was both extremely mathematical, and at the same time very
John Jr.
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
In looking back more than 15 years to when I read this book, I find, as is usually the case, that what persists are general impressions more than specific recollections. Instead of attempting to construct some sort of short essay, I'll present a few comments.

The word "cybernetics" was coined by Norbert Wiener, in 1947 (to use the year specified by the usually reliable Science Fiction Encyclopedia), as an English adaptation of a Greek word, kubernētēs, meaning pilot, steersman, navigator, control
Sumanth Srinivasan
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
There are many things I love about this book, but most of all is the fact that Norbert Wiener, then a professor at MIT, wrote this book in 1950. Despite its existence well before its time, 'The Human Use of Human Beings' stands as a great precursor to both information technology and media theory.

Analogies fly back and forth throughout the first half of the book, between human individuals, societal systems and machines. He pulls this off especially well, putting an engineer inside fever dreams of
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very surprised to discover how readable Wiener is. As a pop science book from the 1950s, of course much of it is dated, but that’s what makes it even more interesting! This feels more than an exploration of technology and science’s progress in terms of our relationship with the non-human (automation and computer interface, in this case) – it would have been interesting to put Wiener in a time machine and send him to 2019 – to see how much of his descriptions of some of the issues the scientist ( ...more
Thomas Resing
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, technology
I love it when I find a book written so long ago that has so much to say about things that are happening today. Often, we think, "This is something so new, that the only things written about it are just now being written."
Norbert Wiener was a mathmetician, but also much more than that. He explores automation and messaging topics that are very much relevant today.
I rarely, if ever, hear people talk about Cybernetics, a term he coined and at the center of the book. However, it's great to be remin
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous and thoughtful discourse on human feedback systems

I admit this is a book I have read multiple times. It is a book I have a strong affinity for. I come back to it every few years. Why? Norbert's views of the future were prescient of our times. He does a fine job of hi-lighting the dangers of a "machine à gouverner" and the implications thereof. In essence he describes what can happen if you were able to apply probabilistic control to humans and tie this back to feedback systems.

The b
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
We are in 1949, Wiener is lecturing us on communication of humans and its machines; the scope is broad: from physics to society. Regarding information, humans are patterns trying to perpetuate themselves fighting nature’s probabilistic tendency to disorder (second law of thermodynamics). How we are doing it? Well, the whole discussion unveils the beginning of the information revolution supported by computers. Hey, just 70 years ago, geniuses like Wiener and Von Neumann weren't sure about machine ...more
Jonathan Spies
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible. Not only does he foresee much of the technology that has come to pass, but he enumerates many of the ethical questions we have needed and still need to muddle through. There are passages that have become outdated but the foundation for thinking about technology doesn't get any stronger than in this book.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Decided to try this one as I read Possible Minds (another collection of essays compiled by John Brockman. This one uses Human Use of Human Beings as a launch pad for recent AI contemplations) as well as Gregory Bateson's Ecologies of Mind. Cybernetics will never make complete sense to me but this book filled in some gaps.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sociology
This is what happens when one tries hard to glaze a phony layer of "polymath" look on oneself, without actually getting one's hand dirty in initiating one into various disciplines.

Der Teufelskreis wird enger!
Doch man glaubt nur was man glauben will.
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was referenced in a CISSP study book that I am reading so I thought I'd give it a read. It is still very relevant considering the year it was written. Pretty eerie actually. It'd be a quick and fun read for those who are interested.
Jimmy Head
Pre-digital world that never could not see beyond analog.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Some insightful predictions and observations, but a style of writing tyat jumped a bit too often from idea to idea.
Omer Yezdani
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If this book isn't appreciated in its first read, you need to go back and look again. It's ideas are remarkable, a jolt of lightning from a brilliant mind.
May 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
It's not a bad book but I found it a bit boring and hard to understand. Entropy, thermodinamycs laws, cybernetics... I'm so new to this. Maybe I need to give it a second chance.
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Very interesting, sometimes a little thick or heady. Overall, scary but thought provoking!
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A remarkably prescient book
Mark Congiusta
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Quite visionary for its time.
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The layman's version of Cybernetics, with bonus philosophy and early brain-computer interface ideas.
Sean Toru
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
The idea behind the field of cybernetics is that systems can control and regulate themselves, as well communicating with other systems. The interesting part is that these 'systems' could be anything from iPhones to human brains to political regimes - and they can be studied in and compared using the same methodologies.

The author, a heavyweight MIT scientist, was at the vanguard of this new field. In this book he manages to convey quite complex ideas in a non-technical way. But beyond the scienc
Stephen Lee
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good insights, but not as coherent, insightful, or interesting as 'Cybernetics' by the same author
Arthur Gershman
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Norbert Wiener was a child prodigy and Professor of Mathematics at MIT from 1919 until his death in 1964. He invented the science of cybernetics (look it up in the dictionary) and the guided missile but refused to help the military during the cold war. This volume includes an open letter published in the January, 1947 Atlantic Monthly magazine entitled "A Scientist Rebels" by Norbert Wiener. An introduction by Wiener biographer Steve J. Heims provides a context for Wiener's works.
If you are at a
Alb Bte
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A 1950s vision of what the future could be like, based on the recent developments in science.
The author outlines his vision of what will be become cybernetics -- the science of information, also an umbrella-term for many other fields of science, ranging from hard science to human sciences. Having the author's opinion, a brilliant mathematician, about what would the dangers of a poorly managed human/machine relationship be, at a time where personal computer hasn't been invented is very interesti
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