In 2014, On the 120th anniversary of his birth and 50th anniversary of his death, the IEEE commenced Norbert Weiner in the 21st Century, a biennial conference gathering scientists and engineers from around the world to commemorate the life and work of Norbert Wiener and to reintroduce him to a younger generation. Due to a renewed interest in Dr. Wiener’s work, as reflected in research, writing and practice, and in both old and new media, the conference looks at his ideas and the influence they have today.

Cyberspace is named after his multidisciplinary approach, “cybernetics”, a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Wiener’s new science and breakthrough discoveries were applied in everyday life by governments and commercial enterprises worldwide to benefit human existence. Those same technological advances have raised the social and human challenges Wiener himself foresaw and tirelessly forewarned of, resulting in his ardent social activism to safeguard “the human use of human beings”.

Several of Wiener’s key initiatives, including cybernetics, were the outcome of the multi-disciplinary “Macy conferences”. The original Macy conferences took place in New York in the 1940s and early 1950s, under the auspices of the Josiah Macy, Jr Foundation. Regular attendees, along with Wiener, included mathematician John Von Neumann, psychiatrist Warren McCulloch, biophysicist Heinz von Forester, physician Arturo Rosenblueth, computer engineer Julian Bigelow, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, logician Walter Pitts, and anthropologist Gregory Bateson.

In that spirit, this conference presents high-profile multi-disciplinary panels taking a 21st century look at some of the type questions that Wiener raised and “re-enacts” some of those interactions seven or more decades later, such as: “Is there a future for work as our world becomes automated?”, “Human/Machine: Where do engineering and the life-sciences meet?”, “What is cyberwar and cybercrime telling us?”. The live participation is these unique interactions cannot be replicated.

The original Macy Meetings, composed of cross disciplinary scientists and engineers, were the petri dish of multiple advances, including cybernetics, and, true to that banner, Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century creates a forum for professionals actively working in the areas of: Complex Systems, Complexity Science, Service Systems, Infrastructure and Transportation Systems, Environmental and Energy Systems, Defense and Space Systems, Human Life, Economic, Tele-Communication Systems, Social, Political, and Biological and Ecosystems to gather, present and generate cross-disciplinary questions, ideas and solutions.

IEEE Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century Conference Series

This ongoing biannual IEEE sponsored conference series will celebrate the work of Norbert Wiener, while noting his influence on developments and innovation that continue to shape and change our lives. To date the conference has been held in Boston (2014) and Melbourne (2016) with the next scheduled for Budapest (2018). 

The Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is concerned with how technology impacts the world, and with how the application of technology can improve the world. The Society focuses on five fields: technology and development; technology and sustainability; accessible technology; technology and ethics; and the impact of emerging technologies.

Greg Adamson, President of IEEE SSIT 2015-16, initiated the IEEE Conference Series on Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, and specializes in ethics and barriers to socially beneficial technology.

The IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology has a mission to preserve and disseminate information about the history of technology and engineering.  The Engineering and Technology History Wiki (ETHW) is a website powered by MediaWiki with thousands of articles, first-hand accounts, oral histories, milestones, archival documents and lesson plans pertaining to the history of technology. The ETHW is one of the world’s premier sites for the documentation, analysis, and explanation of the history of technology; the scientists, engineers and business people who made these technologies happen; and on the history of the organizations to which these men and women belonged. The ETHW was developed by a partnership between the United Engineering Foundation, and the AIChE, AIME, ASCE, ASME, IEEE, SPE and SWE, and is operated and maintained for the partnership by the IEEE History Center. It fosters the creation of narratives that not only document the history of engineering practices but also explain when, how, and why these technologies developed as they did. It uses a wiki-based web platform to foster a collaborative online environment that taps into the collective memories, experiences, and knowledge of engineering’s worldwide membership – the men and women who provide the imagination, creativity, and know-how to sustain engineering progress and technological innovation. In time, this site will serve as a central historical repository of all the achievements, ideas, and first-hand knowledge of engineering association members, societies, councils and technical communities. The ETHW will also provide a central location for all materials related to engineering’s organizational history.

Although the contributions to this site are restricted to registered users, the ETHW is also dedicated to making the social, economic, political, and technical aspects of the history of technology accessible to all. The general public is invited to explore and learn about the history of the technologies that have shaped and will continue to shape their lives.

Dr. Michael Geselowitz, Senior Director of the IEEE History Center, holds S.B. degrees in electrical engineering and in anthropology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology from Harvard University.  His research focus has been on the history and social relations of technology. He has worked as an electronics engineer for the Department of Defense, and he has held teaching and research positions relating to the social study of technology at M.I.T., Harvard, Yale University, and at Eric Marder Associates, a New York market research firm, where he supervised Ph.D. scientists and social scientists undertaking market analyses for Fortune 500 high-tech companies. He is also a registered Patent Agent. Through the arrangement between Stevens and IEEE that sponsors the IEEE History Center, Mike is currently Industry Associate Professor of History.

Dr. Arthur Winston was the Boston Representative and Technical Program Chair of the 2014 Conference, Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century.  Dr. Winston earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Toronto, Canada, and his doctoral degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He was one of the founders of the Tufts Gordon Institute, a graduate program in Engineering Management and is Director Emeritus of the Institute.  In 2007, he was one of three recipients of the Bernard M. Gordon Prize by the National Academy of Engineering which recognizes innovation in engineering and technology education.

Dr. Winston has also made notable contributions outside of academia.  He has worked with Bell Telephone Company in Canada, Canada’s National Research Council, and Allied Research Corporation (now part of Boeing). He developed the NASA Apollo Heat Shield Re-entry Temperature Measurement System as well as a worldwide nuclear test monitoring system. He has written over 100 papers and holds three patents.

He is a Life Fellow of the IEEE and served as the 2004 President of the IEEE.