God and Golem, Inc: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion

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MIT Press, 1964 - Philosophy - 99 pages
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The new and rapidly growing field of communication sciences owes as much to Norbert Wiener as to any one man. He coined the word for it-- "cybernetics." In "God &; Golem, Inc.," the author concerned himself with major points in cybernetics which are relevant to religious issues.

The first point he considers is that of the machine which learns. While learning is a property almost exclusively ascribed to the self-conscious living system, a computer now exists which not only can be programmed to play a game of checkers, but one which can "learn" from its past experience and improve on its own game. For a time, the machine was able to beat its inventor at checkers. "It did win, " writes the author, "and it did learn to win; "and the method of its learning was no different in principle from that of the human being who learns to play checkers."

A second point concerns machines which have the capacity to reproduce themselves. It is our commonly held belief that God made man in his own image. The propagation of the race may also be interpreted as a function in which one living being makes another in its own image. But the author demonstrates that man has made machines which are "very well able to make other machines in their own image, " and these machine images are not merely "pictorial" representations but "operative" images. Can we then say: God is to Golem as man is to Machines? in Jewish legend, "golem" is an embryo Adam, shapeless and not fully created, hence a monster, an automation.

The third point considered is that of the relation between man and machine. The concern here is ethical. "render unto man the things which are man's andunto the computer the things which are the computer's, " warns the author. In this section of the book, Dr. Wiener considers systems involving elements of man "and" machine.

The book is written for the intellectually alert public and does not involve any highly technical knowledge. It is based on lectures given at Yale, at the Socié té Philosophique de Royaumont, and elsewhere.


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About the author (1964)

American mathematical logician Norbert Wiener was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An intellectually gifted child whose father taught at Harvard University, he graduated from Tufts University at the age of 14 and received his M.A. and his Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Harvard in 1914. The following year he studied at Cambridge University under Bertrand Russell (see also Vol. 4) and Godfrey Hardy and at Gottingen University, Europe's leading centers in mathematical and physical science. During World War I, Wiener taught at the University of Maine, worked as a writer and reporter, and served as a mathematician in Aberdeen, Maryland. In 1919 Wiener joined the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he remained for the rest of his long, notable career. While at MIT, he was influenced by the research on statistical mechanics of chemist Josiah Willard Gibbs. Adapting Gibbs's findings, he produced major research contributions on the problem of Brownian motion. He also used Tauberian theorems in his work on harmonic analysis and produced simple proofs of the prime-number theorem. Wiener also began to study electrical circuits, especially the field of feedback control. During World War II, Wiener went to work for the U.S. government on the construction of predictors and in research on guided missiles. Despite his wartime contributions, he resolutely opposed the use of weapons of mass destruction. However, a major outgrowth of his wartime research was his renewed study of the handling of information by complex machines like automatic computers, radar devices, and servomechanisms. His earlier research in feedback control in circuit instrumentation now prompted Wiener to postulate the similarity between the operation of these mechanisms and that of the human brain and nervous system. His work here led to a new field of science that he called cybernetics, which he defined as the study of control and communication in man and in the machine. His book Cybernetics (1948) was widely read by both scientists and the general public. The book popularized the study of the relationships between the creations of the new age of technology and their creators.

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