From Publishers Weekly
One of the central concerns of the current "information age" is the difficulty of ordering and making sense out of the glut of information that flies at us from every direction, at all hours, in increasingly creative and invasive ways. Wiener, the man who gave us the tools to create and nurture this age by founding the science of cybernetics, has fallen prey to that glut, with his legacy and impact largely forgotten and misunderstood. Conway and Siegelman attempt to reassess that legacy, painting a compelling, readable portrait of "a dark hero who has fallen through the cracks in the information age, and of his fight for human beings that is the stuff of legend." The authors, who co-wrote Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, celebrate Wiener's genius and his voracious appetite for various modes of scientific and social inquiry, and describe how this interdisciplinary mental agility was the key to Wiener's development of cybernetics. At the same time, the authors humanize their subject with revealing but tasteful ruminations on his manic depression, his physical limitations and his sometimes petty and competitive nature. Perhaps most importantly, Conway and Siegelman chronicle Wiener's own awakening to the implications of the science he was pioneering and to the dangers they posed to his future and to ours. Photos. (Jan.)
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No one saw earlier or more fully the possibilities and perils of automated information systems than did Norbert Wiener, whose remarkably prescient vision receives overdue attention in this compelling biography. Beginning with the wunderkind years that put Wiener in graduate school at age 14, the authors limn the development of the brilliant mind that created the basic framework for a statistical science of communication. As that mind pioneered new understandings of feedback loops and analog information systems, a cybernetic paradigm emerged, opening new horizons for computer designers, biologists, and sociologists. Conway and Siegelman chronicle Wiener's highly fruitful collaboration with the computer maven John von Neuman, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and others who applied cybernetic principles. They also detail Wiener's estrangement from cold warriors he accused of misusing his discoveries for political purposes and from corporate leaders he feared would use cybernetics to exploit and displace workers. At a time when information technology is delivering new powers to government security agencies and new clients to unemployment offices, readers will read this life story with great interest. Bryce Christensen
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