Norbert Wiener was born in 1894 in the Missouri town of Columbia (hometown of the University of Missouri). He was one of the most enigmatic and brilliant American mathematicians of the twentieth century.
A true child prodigy, he achieved a BA degree at 14 and a PhD at 18 (Harvard). He described mathematics as a source of physical pain, the only relief for which was the pursuit and discovery of solutions to problems. He was also adamant that the initial conditions of a problem always be laid out fully and properly. He famously warned that “What most experimenters take for granted before they begin their experiments is infinitely more interesting than any results to which their experiments lead.”
Although he made contributions to several fields, mainly in pure and applied mathematics and molecular physics, he is best known as the founder of the field of cybernetics, which seeks to formalize control mechanisms. In fact, the term itself was invented by Wiener as no suitable term then existed for the study of feedback and control systems in machines and biology. The prefix ‘cyber’ has been used popularly to refer to artificially created reality. However, the origin of the term, as intended by Wiener, was the Greek word for ‘steersman’, the same root as for ‘governor’.
An engaging author, charming yet fiercely independent and even confrontational at times, he was greatly respected as demonstrated by the naming of several prizes and institutes after him.