The most interesting thing I’ve found so far this week, or re-discovered to be more accurate, is a three part documentary series called All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.
Here is part one:
I’m only halfway through part 2 to be honest, so I can’t comment too well on the content beyond that, but it is one of the most fascinating documentary series I can recall for anyone interested in the way computing machines have shaped humanity, and how they are continuing to do so.
I was reminded of these documentaries by a recent blog post by Martin Weigel of the same title - martinweigel.org/2014/07/07/all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace-notes-of-disquiet-and-disbelief - itself also taken from the title of the 1967 poem by Richard Brautigan:
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.
I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.
I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
It focusses on the emergence of Ecology and the role that Cybernetics had to play. Ironically, given the current antagonism between tech and nature - everything from “put down the Playstation and get some sunshine” to “hybrid cars are bad for the environment because they use nickel” and “server farms cause global warming” - Ecology sprung from the belief that nature could be simplified and understood as closed systems: Electrical circuits and feedback loops.
This belief, it turns out, was completely false.
Cybernetics is probably something that gets less attention these days than it deserves. Unfortunately when most of us hear the term we think of something like this:
But I think of Norbert Wiener. Norbert gave us the term Cybernetics, and I think his 1950 book “The Human Use of Human Beings” is critical reading for anyone trying to understand how computers have fundamentally changed how we communicate. It is also a wake up call that the internet is a new idea.
All watched over… - the documentary - talks about a group of programmers and engineers who, in 1968, decided to move away from building mainframes and instead focus on finding ways to network large numbers of personal computers. They show a demonstration. In it they show how their network can allow multiple collaborators to work together on the same project. They had video integrated so they could video-conference. They also were using a mouse to control the UI. In 19-bloody-68!!
We had the internet for nearly 20 years before we had a satisfactory solution for collaborating online.
For the time being I don’t have too much more to add, other than to say that cybernetics will probably take up a fair bit of my attention over the coming months.
Note: This was originally posted on another Tumblr I created called The Most Interesting Thing, but I deleted it because it was one blog too many.