MAXWELL, James Clerk. ''On governors.'' In: Proceedings of the Royal Society. Vol. 16, pp. 270-83. London: Taylor and Francis, 1868.
MAXWELL, James Clerk. "On governors." In: Proceedings of the Royal Society. Vol. 16, pp. 270-83. London: Taylor and Francis, 1868.
8o (214 x 136 mm). Modern quarter calf antique.
"A Governor is a part of a machine by means of which the velocity of the machine is kept nearly uniform, notwithstanding variations in the driving power or the resistence" (p.270)
FIRST APPEARANCE OF MAXWELL'S PAPER. Norbert Wiener, in his Cybernetics, called Maxwell's work "THE FIRST SIGNIFICANT PAPER ON FEED-BACK MECHANISMS" (p. 19). In coining the term "cybernetics" to describe the field of control and communication/information theory, Wiener was paying homage to Maxwell's paper, as the English word "governor" -- the familiar term for the first popular feedback device -- derives from the Latin corruption of the Greek kubernetes. The word means "steersman"; the steering engines of a ship are among the earliest and best developed forms of feedback mechanism.
The concept of feedback, defined by Wiener as "a method of controlling a system by reinserting into it the results of its past performance" (Wiener 1950, 61) was known as far back as the third century B.C, but did not "take off" until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when James Watt's invention of the centrifugal governor (1788) sparked an immediate rise in the creation of other feedback control devices. "During the 19th century countless feedback devices were invented for a multitude of purposes ... The dynamic problems of speed regulation provided the motive for the first attempts at formulating a mathematical theory of automatic control" (Mayr 1970, 131). Maxwell's was one of the earliest such attempts, following the device described in George Biddell Airy's paper, "The regulator of the clock-work for effecting uniform movement of equatorials" (1840-51). Origins of Cyberspace 337.