Cyber-Systems Timeline

A somewhat selective list of events in cybernetics, electronic music, kinetic sculpture, artificial intelligence, and their interactions from the 1940's to the near present.

Behavior, Purpose, and Teleology; Rosenblueth, Wiener, Bigelow
Founding cybernetics article in Philosophy of Science, 10 pp18-24.

Macy Conferences
Meetings of the minds on cybernetic systems, leading up to the 1956 Dartmouth Conference.

Principles of Self-Organizing Systems; Ross Ashby
Article in Journal of General Psychology 37, pp125-128

Cybernetics; Norbert Wiener
First text on cybernetic control systems.

A Mathematical Theory of Communication; Claude Shannon
Foundational paper for Information Theory. Wiener beat around the bush in a chapter of his book, but Shannon nailed it.

Turtles; Grey Walter
Walter built two autonomous robot vehicles, called "Turtles", each using two vacuum tubes and three relays. Reports of their behavior are, perhaps, unbelievable. For further start here.

Musique Concrete; Pierre Schaffer, Jacques Poullin
First broadcast of "tape music" over French Radio.

Group for Research on Musique Concrète studio established
Electronic music studio under auspices of French National Radio.

Grey Walter articles about his Turtles in Scientific American.
May 1950 pp42-45
Aug 1951 pp60-63

COLOGNE STUDIO established
Electronic music studio under auspices of German Radio. Uses only electronically generated sounds.

First computer synthesized music
Music playback via computer controlled pulses from a speaker. CSIRAC in Australia and the Ferranti Mark 1 in the UK. Note also that in this year the first checkers program was written on the Mark 1.

Cybernetic Tower; Nicolas Schöffer
A sound producing tower (50 m high) for the 1st Salon Bâtimat, Paris (France). Perhaps the first electro-kinetic sculpture.

Electronic music studios and synthesizers developed
Philips, Eindhoven, Netherlands
NHK, Japan
RCA Sarnoff Labs, Princeton

Cysp 1; Nicolas Schöffer
Claimed to be the first self governed (autonomous) cybernetic sculpture.

Illiac Suite for String Quartet; Lejaren Hiller
Perhaps the first complete computer-aided musical composition. Note that in 1954 Yannis Xenakis also used a computer as a compositional aid on Metastasis.

Forbidden Planet; soundtrack by Bebe and Louis Barron
The first fully electronic movie soundtrack. Composed using "broken" machines.

Dartmouth Summer Research Conference on Artificial Intelligence
First meeting to establish AI (ver 1.0) as a discipline.

MUSIC I; -- Max Mathews
First general purpose computer sound synthesis program developed at Bell Labs

Columbia/Princeton Electronic Music Center founded
East coast electronic tape music studio, first established in 1955 by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening.

University of Illinois Studio for Experimental Music founded
First computer controlled music studio. Established under the direction of Lejaren Hiller.

The Two Cultures; C.P. Snow
Posits a chasm between the Sciences and Humanities. However Snow gives the Humanities the upper hand in British Academe.

Modular Sound Modification System; Harold Bode
The first modular analog synthesizer.

Homage to New York; Jean Tinguely
Kinetic sculpture destroys itself in NYMoMA sculpture garden, March 17, 19:30-19:57. Executed with help from Billy Kluver. The Tompkins description in his Bachelors book is brilliant.

Man-Machine Symbiosis; J.C.R. Licklider
ARPA director encourages research that led to the rise of human-computer interactivity and the personal computer

The Henry Drawing Machine; Desmond Paul Henry
The first credited mechanically produced art works. A modified bomb-sight analog computer creates it's own drawings under the direction of Mr. Henry.

Daisy; Max Mathews
First computer voice synthesis, the song Daisy later used in the movie 2001.

Catalog; John Whitney
(Probably the) first computer animated film. A catalog of effects that Whitney produced with a surplus analog computer from a WWII gun-sight.

Noise Study; James Tenney
First computer generated sound composition using the computer as an active part of the compositional process. Executed at Bell Labs with the MUSIC IV program developed by Max Mathews and Joan Miller.

Space War!; Steve Russell and other MIT students
First widely available two person computer game, running on a PDP-1. Other games and amusements had been in the works since 1947 (see the wikipedia entry). Among them was OXO in 1952, where a human could play tic-tac-toe against the computer.

Principles of Self-Organization; Heinz von Foerster
Refocuses cybernetic systems from control to organization.

San Francisco Tape Music Center founded
The West Coast Electronic Music studio. Subsumed into the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music (CCM) in 1967.

Arte Programmata; Milan, Italy
A group of artists (Bruno Munari, Enzo Mari and members of GRUPPO N, and GRUPPO T) show kinetic and optical art work. The name was coined by Umberto Eco.

Retrospective Exhibition; Nicolas Schöffer
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Pavillon de Marsan, Le Louvre (Paris)

First public showing of computer generated art, San Jose, CA.
Programmed by Joan Shogren of San Jose State University.

Deterministic nonperiodic flow; Edward Lorenz
Nicknamed The Butterfly Effect, one of the founding publications of Chaos Theory published in the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences.

Robot K-456; Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe
20-channel remote-controlled anthropomorphic robot. Kludged together in classic NJP style, played a recording of John F. Kennedy's inaugural address and excreted beans.

First computer synthesized acoustic instruments
Synthesis of brass instruments by Jean Claude Risset, composer in residence at Bell Labs.

First computer graphics exhibitions
Georg Nees, Studio Galerie, Stuttgart, January
Michael Noll and Bela Julesz, Howard Wise Gallery, NYC, summer(?)
Frieder Nake, Wendelin Niedlich Galerie, Stuttgart, November

Watcher; James Seawright
Kinetic sculpture shown at the Guggenheim, NYC. Seawright was pioneer of interactive sculptures, using mirrors and electronic components.
Also: Sculptures by George Rickey and James Seawright, New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, 1970.

Music for Solo Performer; Alvin Lucier
Alpha brain-wave controlled actuators play percussion instruments.

Production synthesizers
First production modular analog synthesizer sold by Robert Moog.
From 1962-66 the San Francisco Tape Music Center, Donald Buchla, Paul Ketoff, and others developed solid state analog music production studios and equipment.

9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering; Billy Kluver, Robert Rauschenberg, etal
Held at the 69th Regiment Armory NYC, October 13-23, under the cover of Experiments in Art and Technology. A complete disaster, according to critical review, but still discussed in reverent tones. Kluver had also collaborated with artists prior to this, in Beyond... Burnham mentions a show at Cordier & Eckstom gallery (NYC) in 1964. Note that Duchamp showed here a lot too... Burnham also refers to a show at the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo in 1963.

Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision; Roy Ascott
Suggests that the "spirit of cybernetics" offers the most effective means for achieving a two-way exchange between the artwork and its audience.

Senster; Edward Ihnatowicz
Possibly the first computerized sculpture at Philips Evoluon center.

Squat; Tom Shannon
Interactive sculpture, possibly the first plant/machine hybrid. Included in the 1968 NYMoMA Machine show.

Hornpipe; Gordon Mumma
One of the first instrument-performer interactive musical performances. The (composer designed and constructed) instrument, space, and performer feed information back to each other. Also in the same vein, Mesa (1966).

Automatic Painting Machine No. 1; Computer Technique Group
Tokyo based engineering collective (including Haruki Tsuchiya) shows a sound and light driven painting machine.

Leonardo journal founded
Art, Science, and Technology journal. Founded by Frank Malina, etal.

Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT founded
By Gyorgy Kepes who turned the reins over to Otto Piene in 1974. Provided long-term residencies for innovative artists in various new media. In 2009 it merged with the Visual Arts Program which was founded in 1989 by Ed Levine, but seems to have never been associated with the MIT Media Lab...

How long is the coast of Britain?; Benoît Mandelbrot
Paper subtitled: "Statistical self-similarity and fractional dimension" published in Science. Describes what Mandelbrot (later in 1975) termed the fractal behavior of certain systems. A founding idea of Complexity Science.

Cybernetic Serendipity; show at ICA, London
First major show of computer generated and related art. Curated by Jasia Reichardt, August 2 to October 20. Later traveled to the United States. Scanned catalog.

Tendency 4; show at Gallery of Contemporary Art (now the Museum of Contemporary Art), Zagreb
New Tendencies exhibition of "Computer and Visual Research" August 2 - August 8. New Tendencies published a journal, Bit International and held exhibitions and colloquia from 1961-1978

Beyond Modern Sculpture; Jack Burnham
Subtitled "The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of this Century", this book outlined cybernetic, systems, and conceptual art and their place in Modern Art history. See also:
Systems Esthetics, Artforum, September 1968;
Real Time Systems, Artforum, September 1969;
Alice’s Head: Reflections on Conceptual Art, Artforum, February 1970;
Art and Technology: The Panacea That Failed, 1980. A repudiation of all that went before.
Reprinted in John Hanhardt, Video Culture.

The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age; show at NYMoMA
Pontus Hultén curator. Nov 25, 1968 - Feb 9, 1969. Including commissioned collaborations between artists and engineers under the umbrella of EAT.

ARPA net opens for business
The proto-internet connected four university campuses. Developed under the auspices of (Defense) Advanced Research Projects. First proposed by the RAND Corp in 1964.

Sal-Mar Construction; Sal Martirano, etal
Hybrid digital/analog synthesizer designed and built by the composer in collaboration with University of Illinois engineers. "Completed" in 1972.

Computer Arts Society founded
Society established in London.

The Exploratorium; founded
One of the first science museums to encourage visitor interaction with their exhibits and to emphasize collaboration with the arts. They opened with the traveling version of the Cybernetic Serendipity from the ICA (via the Corcoran Annex) and purchased some of the works for permanent display when the show closed 18 months later.

Space Travel; Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie
Solar system simulator game where one could attempt to land a spacecraft on planets. Mostly notable as being the impetus for the development of the UNIX operating system at Bell Labs.

Perceptrons; Marvin Minsky and Seymour Pappert
Book proves that a single layer Perceptron (neural model) cannot produce an XOR operation. This throws neural network research off track for over 10 years and contributes to Artificial Intelligence's divergence into Symbolic and Rule based systems.

The Mansfield Amendment; Mike Mansfield (D, Montana)
"...passed as part of the fiscal year 1970 Military Authorization Act prohibited military funding of research that lacked a direct or apparent relationship to specific military function." (wikipedia). This contributed to the decline in funding for pure research in AI, among other fields.

Danish artist Susanne Ussing and architect Carsten Hoff apparently invent the word cyberspace.
After attending Cybernetic Serendipity in London and reading Wiener's The Human Use of Human Beings they name their joint project Atelier Cyberspace and produce a show, Sensory Space, at Copenhagen's Nikolaj Church.

Information; show at NYMoMA
Curated by Kynaston McShine. July 2 - September 20. Proto-conceptual show with artist's book as catalog.

Software / Information Technology : Its New Meaning for Art; show at The Jewish Museum, NYC
Jack Burnham curated show of cybernetic and information art, September 16 through November 8, 1970. Was supposed to travel to the Smithsonian Institution December 16 through February 14, 1971, but circumstances intervened. In general a total technical and social failure, but introduced much longer lived themes in art and science.

Art and Technology; show at Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Maurice Tuchman curated show, resulting from a program that paired artists with corporations from 1967-71. This included what may be Richard Serra's first use of large scale industrial tools.

Pepsi Pavilion; (on the Wayback Machine); Expo '70, Osaka, Japan
Massive Art-Tech project constructed by E.A.T. as the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion for the Osaka worlds fair. To quote from the link: "Breaking with the post-renaissance notion of specialization and the artist as 'auteur' single-handedly creating the work the multidisciplinary nature of the Pepsi Pavilion required the collective effort of a large group of artists and engineers...". It, too, was a fairly massive (mostly) financial failure, and basically the last of this kind of corporate marketing excess.

Conspiracy 8; Gordon Mumma
First "network" performance. Presented at the NY Guggenheim Museum but controlled by a remote data link to a computer in Boston.

Responsive; Myron Krueger
Video environments that responded to the movement and gesture of the viewers.

Game of Life; John Conway
A two dimensional Cellular Automata that exhibits ordered behaviors (partially due to limited resolution and a specific algorithm), shows that computers can generate complex behaviors from simple rules.

KYLDEX 1; Nicolas Schöffer
Claimed to be the first experimental cybernetic performance, at Hamburg Opera-house, with music by Pierre Henry, choreography by Alwin Nikolais with Carolyn Carlson

Second Order Cybernetics
The cybernetics of the observer interacting with the observed system. Mainly used in the social sciences. See this lovely discussion between Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead: For God's Sake Margaret

Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems; John H. Holland
Computer simulations of evolutionary processes were done since 1954 but this book formalized the study of Genetic Algorithms.

The Secret Life of Plants; John Lifton, Richard Lowenberg, Jim Wiseman, and Tom Zahuranec
Music and video controlled by bio-signals from plants and humans, for a movie of the same name which met with limited release.

IRCAM founded in Paris
Music research facility founded by Pierre Boulez and funded by the French government. "...coincided with the rise of the debates about modernism and post-modernism in culture and the arts" (Born).

The League of Automatic Music Composers
Spin-off from Mills College CCM by Jim Horton, John Bischoff, and Rich Gold. Composed and performed music using a network of Commodore KIM 1 micro-computers. Succeeded by The Hub in 1983.

Satellite Arts Project; Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz
Two groups of dancers at different locations, linked by communications satellite, interacted in composite images. Supported by NASA, the NEA, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. A previous work, Send/Receive, by Liza Bear, Willoughby Sharp, Sharon Grace, and Carl Loeffler had also used interactive satellite transmission to connect sites in New York and San Francisco.

First symposium on Chaos Theory; New York Academy of Sciences
A meeting of the minds to establish a real New Kind of Science.

Roland CR 78 Compurhythm drum machine
(Perhaps) the first programmable electronic drum machine. Some version of this instrument is used in (practically) every pop music song made since.

Energized Artscience; show at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
Solo show of Generative art work by Sonia Landy Sheridan.

The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge; J-F. Lyotard
Proposes an 'incredulity towards meta-narratives', including those of Progress, Know-ability, and Freedom. Opens the floodgates of Postmodern Critical Theory. Published in English in 1984.

Ars Electronica
First annual festival devoted to electronic arts. Since 1987 they have awarded the Prix Ars Electronica in a number of categories.

Survival Research Laboratories (SRL)
Robot performance collective founded by Mark Pauline, Matthew Heckert, and Eric Werner. Produce huge Robot Wars circuses in the San Francisco Bay area and beyond.

Artists' Use of Telecommunications Conference; world-wide
Provided a live international video and audio link for participants to share slow-scan video, chat, and text via telephone lines. Anchored at the San Francisco MoMA and driven by Carl Loeffler.

MTV debuts
The first Music Television video broadcast is The Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star.

First computer art show under the auspices of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. Now an annual event.

Hopfield Network; John Hopfield
Backpropagation; David Rumelhart
Revived Connectionism and neural network AI research.

Nam June Paik; show at the NY Whitney Museum
Solo show by one of the founding figures of video art.

Media Lab established at MIT
New Media research facility, in the planning stages since 1979, founded by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner. Independent of (but parallel in intent to?) the CAVS (1967) program.

Helpless Robot; Norman White
Developed this year and first shown in 1988. A robot requests help from viewers and changes its behavior over time depending on the responses it gets.

Zoo des Robots; show in Paris, France
Show of robot and automata art at the Cité des Sciences et de L'Industrie de La Villette.

Vehicles; Valentino Braitenberg
Subtitled "Experiments in Synthetic Psychology". A book of thought experiments which demonstrates the possibility of autonomous robot behavior arising from purely mechanistic connections between sensors and actuators.

Intelligence without representation; Rodney A. Brooks
Paper argues against symbolic representation being necessary for intelligent behavior. Along with the 1990 paper Elephants Don't Play Chess establishes Behavior Based AI as a viable field.

Artificial Life I; conference held in Los Alamos, NM
First of a set of far ranging discussions, of the possibilities of life-like behaviors resulting from human-made software, hardware, or wetware systems. Sponsored (in part) by the Santa Fe Institute. Proceedings in: Artificial Life, Langton (1989). The 13th such conference was held in August 2012.

Ornitorrinco; Eduardo Kac and Ed Bennett
Fully mobile and wireless telepresence robot (telerobot) controlled from a geographically remote place.

The Robot Group; Austin, TX
(One of) the first hacker collectives to address "[the use of] technology to provide and explore new mediums for art."

WWW goes live
The World Wide Web makes it's appearance but doesn't really take off until 1993 when the Mosaic web browser is released.

Delicate Balance; Ken Rinaldo
Kinetic sculpture which allows a Betta Splendons (Siamese fighting fish) the ability to move its tank along a wire at will.

Robot Wars; Marc Thorpe
First robot combat competition at Fort Mason in San Francisco, CA. Later televised by the BBC and transmuted into BattleBots on the Comedy Central network in 2000. Lead directly to my question in 2000, "Why do they always have to fight?"

TeleGarden; Ken Goldberg, Joseph Santarromana, George Bekey, Steven Gentner, Rosemary Morris, Carl Sutter, Jeff Wiegley
Web connected industrial robot arm which planted and cared for a living garden under the control of a remote virtual community.

Fractal Flesh - Internet Body Upload Event; Stelarc
Performance in which remote participants controlled the artist’s body motions via computer interfaced muscle stimulations.

Petit Mal; Simon Penny
Autonomous robot that explores architectural space and pursues and reacts to people.

International Exhibitions
Robots and Knowbots -- Madrid, Spain, as part of Art Futura.
Metamachines: Where is the Body -- Otso Gallery, Espoo, Finland, as part of the MuuMedia Festival.
Robotica Experimenta -- Melbourne, Australia, as part of Experimenta.

Beyond Interface; show at Walker Art Center, MN
Large show of internet based artworks.

Turbulent Landscapes; show at The Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA
Group show using complex systems in artistic and scientific contexts.

GFB Bunny; Eduardo Kac with Louis Bec, Louis-Marie Houdebine, and Patrick Prunet
Alba, the transgenic rabbit/jellyfish produces Green Fluorescent Protein which glows under blue light. Note that there is some controversy over exactly who did what, when in creating well as ethical questions about using living organisms.

in::Formation; show at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
An exhibition of art that moves and makes artworks in the process. Initiated by Sabrina Raaf and Fernando Orellana.

010101: Art in Technological Times; show at SFMoMA, CA
Online and gallery show of techno-art.

Complexity | Art and Complex Systems; show at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, NY
Group show exploring the use of complex systems in artistic production.

Cybernetics and Art: Cultural Convergence in the 1960s; Edward Shanken
In Clarke & Henderson, From Energy to Information. Clearly written history of Cybernetics in Art through the lens of the involvement of British artist Roy Ascott. Interesting to note that, while written in the 2000's, it only covers the years up to the 1970's.

ArtBots; show at the Pratt Institute, NY
The first in a series of annual international "robotic talent" shows (there is evidence that 2011 was the last...). Organized by Douglas Repetto and Philip Galanter.
2011 participants to look into:
Alexander Reben -- information collecting robot
Katie Koepfinger, Burcum Turkmen -- alternate computing interfaces
Ivan Henriques -- plant robot
Logos -- robotic orchestra
Alex Braidwood -- noise transmuting headphones
Dustyn Roberts, Ben Leduc Mills -- drawing machine
Shahar Zaks -- shape shifter
Korinna Lindinger -- self rolling bots
Ranjit Bhatnagar -- voice prints

Robotic Musicianship Group; Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology
Academic program to create robotic instruments that improvise with human players. Directed by Gil Weinberg.

Emergence: Art and Artificial Life; show at the University of California, Irvine
Curated by David Familian and Simon Penny: "This Exhibition features international artists exploring both the biological and computational manifestations of emergent behavior arising from dynamically changing, interactive sculptures."

Orchestrion Ensemble; Pat Metheny with LEMUR
Initiated in 2008. Guitarist Pat Metheny commissioned LEMUR Director Eric Singer to produce a backing band of all-robotic instruments for his 2010 tour.

Other folks to look into
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Frank Popper
Golan Levin and Collaborators
Ken Rinaldo -- Interactive installation
Paul DeMarinis - Stanford University
Digital Art (Second Edition) -- Christiane Paul
Simon Penny -- texts and works
Douglas Repetto -- music and kinetic art
Zimoun -- sound and kinetic art
Raffaello D'Andrea -- quadracopters building a tower
Ken Feingold -- Interactive installation.
Noah Wardrip-Fruin -- UCSC Games and New Media professor.
Lynn Hershman -- Agent Ruby -- online "chatbot".

for further study

A more detailed chronology from 1960-1990 --
Giloth & Pocock-Williams' A Selected Chronology of Computer Art
A more detailed list of Robot Art -- Eduardo Kac's Robotic Art Chronology.
A huge list of Robot advances -- David Buckley's History Making Mobile Robots.
The wiki page for the History of Artificial Intelligence.
A long_long blogroll of bioart information.
A fairly comprehensive list of Electronic Musical Instruments 1870-1990.
(retrieved from by The Wayback Machine)

And if all else fails...go back to my Systems Art page.