This book marks what I'll call the beginning of 'real' learning machines. Up until this point they, learning machines, were more theoretical, to be found only in the laboratory. Now, or rather then, in 1962, the first vestiges of these experiments and developments is beginning to been seen by the mainstream. At least the mainstream scientist.
At firs a blurry comparison between the living and the machine is made. Living things are alive only down so far; at the molecular level they are inert. Compare this with a machine of brass and steel that operates on inputs and produces, intelligent, outputs. Where is the line between them?
This is remnant, as alluded to in the title, of the line between man and god, creator and created. This frontier is such that it is in constant flux, then as it is now, like the croquet game in Alice in Wonderland.
I find it more than interesting that Weiner mentions Alice in Wonderland twice in this book and several times in some of his other works. Lewis Caroll was connected to Lord Salisbury, of Rhodes/Milner group infamy, and was fond of taking pictures of naked adolescent girls. What we would today call a pedophile.
Back to the machines. It should not be taken for granted that these learning machines will understand our intentions. Weiner here compares a modern machine to the monkey paw or the djinn of the lamp. Immense, but literal power. As was the case of the monkey paw, ask for $200 and get it, along with a dead son. When machine derived decisions are utilized when there are great risks, nuclear war for example, the user must be very specific as to the intended outcome. A request for victory without stipulations of survival may produce dire, if not grim, results.
As of the writing, learning machines could play a better than decent game of checkers and it was predicted that in 10-25 years computers would dominate at chess to the point of making the game uninteresting for humans. While computers do now dominate chess, although it took a little longer than predicted, interest does not seem to have waned. There is mention of Go playing computers being even more difficult to construct, but I do believe master Go computers do currently exist.
Weiner believe that would-be masters, from whatever walk of life, will see machines as the perfect, uncomplaining, always obedient slave. I imagine this is exactly how the oligarchy feels about them; in addition to their seemingly endless zeal to replace humans.
Towards the end, it is stated in so many words that cybernetics should first be tested in the more precise fields of engineering and biology, where even here the data is sparse, before being applied to the formless fields of economics and sociology. But, in time, it will be (has been) applied. Given that this book is about 60 years old, and with the advent of the internet, particularly social media, acting as a perfect net for data mining human behavior, I'd say that cybernetics has been applied to modern social sciences. Though, that might be an unfair assessment. Was it not cybernetics, by another name, that was used in Cultural Patterns and Technical Change?
Unrelated, but interesting none-the-less, Weiner recounts a dinner he shared with a number of doctors, one a Nobel laureate. They all agreed that it was only a matter of time before old-age could be cured. This begs many questions. Not the least of which is who decides which people live and which die, given the population bomb that would be unleashed under such a development.
Book of Job