Communications, Control and Cybernetics in Post-War British Systems: Rail, Post and Telecoms

17 November 2017, 17:00 - 18:15

SG1 and SG2, Alison Richard Building

This lecture will be given by Jon Agar and Jacob Ward (University College London). This is a public event and is open to all, free of charge. No registration is required. 

 

In this paper we will review the historical development of British technological and infrastructural systems as they became framed in terms of information, control and to an arguable extent cybernetics. In particular, we will examine the systems devised and controlled by the General Post Office (including both post and telecoms) and British Rail. We will discuss the ways in which cybernetics and information theory inform, in communications, how the post office engaged with the government machine as telecommunications became computerised, while in posts how human operator was situated in a rapidly automating system that still fundamentally relied on human labour. In rail, continental and international exemplars inspired a brief but intense interest in cybernetics. We will conclude with brief reflections on the move from public to private ownership, with regards to these systems' information technologies.

 

Discussant: Matthew Gandy (University of Cambridge)

 

The event will form part of The Afterlives of Cybernetics: Tracing the Information Revolution from the 1960s to Big Data (17-18 November 2017).

 

Sponsors

               

Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES), the London Graduate School, the Philomathia Social Sciences Research Programme, and the University of Cambridge's Trevelyan Fund (Faculty of History).

 

Administrative assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

 

Image via Flickr user diamond_geezer, licensed under the following Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.