(full paper) http://hdl.handle.net/10002/453
Descent of New Media
Cambridge, well known for the creation of the first full-scale operational
stored-program computer EDSAC, is also important, but less well known,
for the development of Cybernetic theory and the application of cross-disciplinary
Cybernetic ideas to developments in computerised art forms. These are
associated with Robin McKinnon Wood (at the Cambridge Language Research
Unit) and his long-term collaborator, professor Gordon Pask. These two
together lead the company ‘System Research’, a non-profit
organisation, partly funded in the post-war/Cold War era by the US military
and receiving contracts from the British Admiralty.
The paper attempts to uncover a somewhat forgotten aspect of the history
of Cybernetic theory in the form of Pask’s Conversation Theory and
its relationship to text generation and sound-prompted computerised light
displays (Musicolour, first tested in 1953, Cambridge) and to show the
connection between the development of commercial and military computer
applications and early initiatives in interactive artwork.
The use of computers in art and new media shares a common lineage with
commercial and military initiatives and these are significantly associated
with a locus in Cambridge and its groups of academics, researchers and
theorists. These strands are brought together in the theoretical edifice
of Conversation Theory as a significant element of second order Cybernetics.
I will show this is the case by discussing how many of the people involved
worked both in the arts and in industry. But I also show the use of cross-genre
hardware and software that was significant in creating applications, that
anticipate both contemporary business and martial usages, and those to
be found in new media art.