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A little known origin of cybernetics and some implications

Alex M. Andrew (Reading University (Retired), Reading, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 18 October 2011




The author reminisces about an experience in the 1950s that revealed a much earlier plan to set up a research centre with aims close to what later came to be called cybernetics. That plan was thwarted by economic considerations but the general approach found expression in the later work of Warren McCulloch and of a group around him, the latter first in Chicago and then in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This paper aims to discuss the attempt to set up this research centre.


The emphasis is on study of the brain and its modelling in mechanistic terms, and the limitations of various experimental techniques are discussed.


Despite much very good work and technical developments, the detailed working of the brain is still mysterious, and quite fundamental aspects are still debatable. The suggestion that the 1990s would be the “Decade of the brain” was premature.

Practical implications

Technical developments including scanning techniques, especially NMR, have aided the analysis of brain functioning and no doubt other developments will emerge. Modelling by methods of artificial intelligence is likely to be helpful, but must be seen as producing bold, and therefore tentative, hypotheses that workers should be ready to modify or abandon.


The trip to Orange, New Jersey has been described and discussed previously but not in such detail.



Andrew, A.M. (2011), "A little known origin of cybernetics and some implications", Kybernetes, Vol. 40 No. 9/10, pp. 1235-1242.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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