Norbert Wiener died in Stockholm last month, and this book, consisting of lectures delivered at Yale and Paris in 1962, is his first posthumous publication. In many ways, it is an accurate reflection of the author--brilliant, complex, and often controversial.
Wiener, who received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard when he was 18, is best known for his work in mathematical communications and control systems; he first put forth his ideas in Cybernetics, published in 1948. Since then, he has never ceased his discussion of the relationship between man and the machines he creates. God and Golem, Inc., a consideration of "certain points where cybernetics impinges on religion," continues that discussion.
The book is both fascinating and frustrating. Despite his announced intent, Wiener treats religion only secondarily--his concern remains principally with the pragmatic problems of a world in which man must coexist with his mechanical creations. Furthermore, although the book is intended for the general reader, many of Wiener's points are so complex that they cannot be understood, even in principle, by anyone lacking a background in advanced mathematics.
In a manner similar to the mathematical text which skips twenty intermediate steps of a proof with a perfunctory "It is obvious from the above that ...," Wiener has a tendency to lcap from idea to idea, ignoring the connections between points. The reader often feels as if he is watching a mountaingoat bound from peak to peak--the display is impressive, but often hard to follow.
At the same time, Wiener's discussion is so broad-ranging that nearly anyone who picks up the book will find something to interest him. Wiener's examinations of the problems of machines that can learn and reproduce themselves, of "fail-safe" programs, of ethics in the age of automation, is continuously fascinating--and typically controversial.