In this groundbreaking biography, award-winning journalists Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman set out to rescue Wiener’s genius from obscurity and to explore the many way in which hid revolutionary ideas continue to shape our lives. They retrace Wiener’s globe-trotting odyssey: his torturous upbringing and lifelong battle with manic-depression; his inspired technical work that played a pivotal role in the Allied victory in World War II; and the “big bang” of the information age when cybernetics burst on the postwar scene.
Through interviews with Wiener’s family and colleagues, the authors reconstruct a life marked by eccentricity and tumultuous relationships. They draw on newly declassified government documents to show how the FBI and CIA pursued Wiener at the height of the Cold War to thwart his social activism and the growing influence of cybernetics at home and abroad.
The science that Norbert Wiener invented has only grown in significance for modern life. “Feedback,” a term he popularized, now refers to automated machinery, “smart” technology, and human communication—the new new thing is actually old. But he also warned of the dangers inherent in new electronic and biological technologies that could exceed human control, making him not just a mathematical genius but a social visionary as well. The story of this brilliant, multitalented man is fundamental to an understanding of the intersection of technology and culture in the twenty-first century.