How Feedback Changed the World

Professor Dennis Bernstein

Aerospace Engineering Department

University of Michigan

It's fun to debate the most important inventions of all time. Defensible choices include: the alphabet, Hindu-Arabic numerals, eyeglasses, movable type, the transistor, the PC, the pill, and so on. In this talk I will discuss four inventions that are less known but which have had an enormous impact on technology and society. These are: the escapement, the governor, the aerodynamic surface, and the amplifier. Why are these important? Because they made possible accurate timekeeping and the scientific revolution, the steam engine and the industrial revolution, controlled flight and the space age, and electronics and the radio/TV/computer age. In this talk I will discuss how these relatively invisible inventions have one thing in common, namely, they are all based on feedback control principles.

I will relate the interesting and human history of each invention and explain how each one works. This talk is a completely nontechnical cultural introduction to control engineering consisting entirely of pictures and videos. Pre-university and non-engineering types are encouraged to attend.


Friday, October 13, 2000

3:30 - 5:00 p.m.

1500 EECS