December 29, 2015

Norbert Wiener and the Counter-Tradition to the Dream of Mastery

A belated note that my essay, "Norbert Wiener and the Counter-Tradition to the Dream of Mastery," was published in the September issue of IEEE's Technology and Society magazine.

In it I discuss Wiener's lifelong appreciation of uncertainty, in technology and in life in general. The title is a reference to Langdon Winner's discussion, in his classic book, Autonomous Technology, of the historical recognition of the inevitability of unexpected consequences. 

Here's a quote from one of the representatives of the counter-tradition to the dream of mastery mentioned in the piece, Hannah Arendt:

“Action, no matter what its specific content, always establishes relationships and therefore has an inherent tendency to force open all limitations and cut across all boundaries...These consequences are boundless, because action, though it may proceed from nowhere, so to speak, acts into a medium where every reaction becomes a chain reaction and where every process is the cause of new processes. Since action acts upon beings who are capable of their own actions, reaction, apart from being a response, is always a new action that strikes out on its own and affects others. Thus action and reaction among men never move in a closed circle and can never be reliably confined to two partners.”