Photo of Norbert Wiener

Norbert Wiener

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For his marvellously versatile contributions, profoundly original, ranging within pure and applied mathematics, and penetrating boldly into the engineering and biological sciences.

As a child, Norbert Wiener experienced trouble with basic arithmetic, bored by what he called a “manipulative drill.” His father – hoping to spark imagination – took over his education, homeschooling him in algebra, a more advanced form of mathematics. A prodigy, Wiener finished high school and enrolled at Tufts University at age 11. By 18, he earned Ph.D in mathematics from Harvard.

Among his early accomplishments, Wiener, who joined the faculty at MIT, explained Brownian motion, the random movement of fluid particles. Wiener’s equation is often applied in finance to find patterns and predict stock prices.

Later, Wiener originated the theory of cybernetics, also called systems theory, which hinges on the principle that a system constantly adjusts itself in response its environment.

The theory, used to explain anything from organisms to computers, is recounted in Wiener’s 1950 publication “The Human Use of Human Beings”:

“To live effectively,” he wrote. “is to live with adequate information”