The Origins of British Cybernetics: The Ratio Club

Holland, Owen and Husbands, Phil (2011) The Origins of British Cybernetics: The Ratio Club. Kybernetes, 40 (1&2). pp. 110-123. ISSN 0368-492X

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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to describe the origins, members, activities, and influence of the Ratio Club, a British cybernetic dining club that met between 1949 and 1958. Although its membership included some of the best known British cyberneticists, such as Grey Walter and Ross Ashby, along with pioneering scientists such as Alan Turing, the club is poorly documented, and its significance is difficult to establish from published sources. Design/methodology/approach The approach involved the consultation and analysis of unpublished material in both private and public archives in the UK and the USA, coupled with interviews with surviving members, guests, and contemporaries. Findings The Ratio Club grew out of a distinctively British strand of cybernetic activity that was mainly fuelled by the deployment of biologists to engineering activities during the Second World War. It was also strongly influenced by the approach of the psychologist Kenneth Craik. Although members were keenly aware of contemporary American developments, such as Wiener's approach to the mathematics of control, and the psychological and sociological concerns of the Macy Conference, the emphasis of the club was on the application of cybernetic ideas and information theory to biology and the brain. In contrast to the wide influence the later Macy conferences exercised through their published transcripts, the Ratio Club influenced its core disciplines though its members, several of whom became prominent and effective advocates of the cybernetic approach. Originality/value This is the first journal paper to give an authoritative, detailed, and accurate account of the club's origins, activities, and importance.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Engineering and Informatics > Informatics
Depositing User: Owen Holland
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:52
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2013 12:30
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