Abstract- Wayne Clements

(full paper) http://hdl.handle.net/10002/453

The 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.