When Adam Smith published ‘The Wealth of Nations’ in 1776, defining economics as a subject, he also launched the science of control theory. This teaches how to control things to make them change the way you want, or stay the same if that is what you prefer. It sounds easy but it is not.
Great minds studied it, and now it has become a mega-subject, defined by weighty mathematical texts. But the basic ideas underlying classical control theory, explained in this book, are simple and do not require any mathematics.
Control theory is not just autopilots and robots. It explains much about everyday life:
- how we fall in love, or have fights
- why we admire artists and thinkers more than business people, remember them longer yet pay them much less
- how arms races between nations lead to war
- why selling pigs for a living is problematic, and selling silicon chips even worse
- how revolutions collapse into bureaucracy and terror, and why communism failed.
- why England began its industrial revolution in the sixteenth century, Japan in the nineteenth but China not until the late twentieth.
Holding on to the good in life and making what is less good better is a universal motivation, for politicians, bus drivers, entrepreneurs, miners, engineers, mothers and artists, all of us. This easy, entertaining book gives the key to how it can be done.
Why is Wimbledon top billing on summer TV? Why do we admire sportsmen and artists rather than salesmen and lawyers? Why are we attracted to strong political leaders, where flexible responsive leadership is demonstrably more effective? Drawing on control theory, this book looks at the range of questions that can be examined via this theory. This is a layperson's introduction to control theory, explaining how control affects politics and economics as well as the more obvious fields of science and technology. Gosling begins with an exposition of the main elements of control theory. these are: negative feedback (stimulus and response in opposite directions eg a central-heating system), positive feedback (stimulus and response in the same direction eg an arms race), open-loop system (process with all parameters decided at outset eg throwing a dart), closed-loop system (process with feedback control eg an autopilot). Gosling's main theme is that humans have a fatal attraction towards open-loop sytems: we idolize people who are good at open-loop control, such as artists, sportsmen or inventors.
Gosling ends with a futurology of the end of the Industrial Revolution, as predicted by control processes.