Wiener, Norbert 1894 - 1964


(1894-1964), mathematician

Norbert Wiener was born in Columbia, Missouri on 26 November 1894. He was educated at Ayer High School, Massachusetts before studying biology and mathematics at Tufts College, graduating in 1909. After a brief stint at Harvard Graduate School studying zoology, Wiener transferred to Cornell University to study philosophy, receiving his M.A. in 1912. He went on to graduate from Harvard with a Ph.D. in philosophy just one year later.

Wiener took on a number of roles in the following years, including a junior lectureship at Harvard (1915-1916), an officer post in the army reserves (1916-1917), an engineering apprenticeship at General Electric (1917), and a writer’s post with the Encyclopaedia Americana in New York (1917-1918). After the First World War, Wiener accepted a position in the Department of Mathematics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he remained for the rest of his life.

While at MIT in the late 1930s, Wiener coined the term “cybernetics” to describe his field of research, referring to the study of feedback, control, and communication systems in humans, animals, and machines. Wiener’s first major application of this new discipline came during the Second World War, when he assisted the American military in their development of autonomous anti-aircraft systems. After the war, he published Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948), a text that proved highly influential in fields as diverse as neuroscience, artificial intelligence, electrical engineering, and economic planning.

Wiener married Margaret Engemann in 1926, with whom he had two children. He died in Stockholm, Sweden, following a heart attack on 18 March 1964.