Gary N. Lines reviews 'Rise of the Machines: The lost history of cybernetics' by Thomas Rid

Gary N. Lines reviews 'Rise of the Machines: The lost history of cybernetics' by Thomas Rid

Rise of the Machines: The lost history of cybernetics

by Thomas Rid

Scribe $35 pb, 316 pp, 9781925321425

Gary N. Lines

Gary N. Lines

Gary N. Lines is an Adelaide novelist and writes for Australian Financial Review. His latest book is Doing Life in

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What is the definition of the postmodern concept known as cybernetics? Englishman and mathematician Thomas Rid, a professor in the War Studies department at King's College, London, comprehensively documents the history of cybernetics in his book Rise of the Machines. First, though, he discusses the problem of defining cybernetics. It seems like a logical place to start. Logical it may be, but easy it isn't.

Cybernetics is a postmodern concept; it resists attempts to be pigeonholed with one universally accepted definition. It employs the usual suspects, such as self-awareness, great promise, paradox, parody, and a god complex. Stafford Beer, a UK theorist, specialising in management cybernetics, relates a joke which sums up the dilemma of defining cybernetics.

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Published in October 2016, no. 385