New Media History

Art and Technology as connected through Cybernetics

Cybernetics – control of any system using technology

1703 – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz developed binary numbers, a way for machines to calculate reasoning that’s comparable to a humanistic thought process.

1947 – Robert Winer wrote Cybernetics Or Control And Communication In The Animal And The Machine”, towards establishing a universal language to describe features of animals as well as machines.

1948 – Robert Winer and Claude Shannon proposed the mathematical model of communication.

Negative Feedback is an important theoretical advancement. For example, say if human body temperature reaches beyond 37 degrees, then nerve cells in the brain triggers regulatory centers in the brain to cause sweat glands in our bodies to sweat. And if we are sweating, it is a signal that’s fed back into the brain to keep examine if the body temperature is still higher than 37 degrees. This way, the body will not stop sweating until it reaches a state of equilibrium -37 degrees.

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Negative Feedback allows for reflection and improvement towards a goal, thus enabling a system to behave intellegently and evolve in a continuous fashion.

In 1950, Claude Shannon constructed a “Maze Solving Machine” that is capable of remembering past output data.

In 1953, William Walter invented electroencephalogram(EEG) in order to measure how human brains digest data. He became aware of the “Maze Solving Machine” as a material model equivalent to brain activities.

In 1955, Gordon Pask constructed “learning’ machines” to simulate teacher-pupil interaction.

In 1953 – 1957, Gordon built audio-visual learning machines, where musicians used visual feedback to determine when to initiate new sound inputs. This machine is viewed as an evidence of how machine could enhance human cognition.

In 1956, Nicolas Schöffer made CYSP 1, a mobile kinetic sculpture. Photoelectric cells and a microphone were installed as sensors to enable “CYSP 1” to register the environment´s modifications of colors, light and sound intensity. With his sculpture as mobile and self navigating, Schöffer transfers cybernetic models to cybernetic sculptures.

In 1968, Gordon Pask made Colloquy of Mobiles, a complex stimulus-response-system where male photo cells send light sources for female mirrors to catch, and audiences could introduce additional light sources by lighting torches.

Artists use new media to reach new audience or produce new effects.

The idea of Utopia – “The Radio Eye” – a way to connect all the workers around the world.

immediacy. immateriality.

exposing underlying computer algorithm

Break away from assumptions made by mainstream software programmers


society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part. (p. 16)

  • Norbert Wiener

Disassociated societies have tendencies to enter state of disorder.

Communication is a way to provide order and structure against disorder.

Nature offers resistance to decoding, but it doesn’t show ingenuity in offering new and undecipherable way for us to communicate with the outer world, as opposed to a chess opponent’s sabotage behavior. Therefore, there are two ways of feedback, positive feedback and negative feedback. Negative feedback, in Wiener’s view, helps the system to maintain a certain level of equilibrium.







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