Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as "the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." In the 21st century, the term is often used in a rather loose way to imply "control of any system using technology." In other words, it is the scientific study of how humans, animals and machines control and communicate with each other.
Cybernetics is applicable when a system being analyzed incorporates a closed signaling loop—originally referred to as a "circular causal" relationship—that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in the system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change. Cybernetics is relevant to, for example, mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. The essential goal of the broad field of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action. Its focus is how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes or can be changed to better accomplish the first two tasks. Cybernetics includes the study of feedback, black boxes and derived concepts such as communication and control in living organisms, machines and organizations including self-organization.
Concepts studied by cyberneticists include, but are not limited to: learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, convergence, communication, efficiency, efficacy, and connectivity. In cybernetics these concepts (otherwise already objects of study in other disciplines such as biology and engineering) are abstracted from the context of the specific organism or device.
The word cybernetics comes from Greek κυβερνητική (kybernētikḗ), meaning "governance", i.e., all that are pertinent to κυβερνάω (kybernáō), the latter meaning "to steer, navigate or govern", hence κυβέρνησις (kybérnēsis), meaning "government", is the government while κυβερνήτης (kybernḗtēs) is the governor or "helmperson" of the "ship". Contemporary cybernetics began as an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mechanical engineering, logic modeling, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and psychology in the 1940s, often attributed to the Macy Conferences. During the second half of the 20th century cybernetics evolved in ways that distinguish first-order cybernetics (about observed systems) from second-order cybernetics (about observing systems). More recently there is talk about a third-order cybernetics (doing in ways that embraces first and second-order).
Studies in cybernetics provide a means for examining the design and function of any system, including social systems such as business management and organizational learning, including for the purpose of making them more efficient and effective. Fields of study which have influenced or been influenced by cybernetics include game theory, system theory (a mathematical counterpart to cybernetics), perceptual control theory, sociology, psychology (especially neuropsychology, behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology), philosophy, architecture, and organizational theory. System dynamics, originated with applications of electrical engineering control theory to other kinds of simulation models (especially business systems) by Jay Forrester at MIT in the 1950s, is a related field.
Other notable definitions include:
The term cybernetics stems from κυβερνήτης (cybernḗtēs) "steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder". As with the ancient Greek pilot, independence of thought is important in cybernetics. French physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère first coined the word "cybernetique" in his 1834 essay Essai sur la philosophie des sciences to describe the science of civil government. The term was borrowed by Norbert Wiener, in his book Cybernetics, to define the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.
The word cybernetics was first used in the context of "the study of self-governance" by Plato in The Alcibiades to signify the governance of people. The word 'cybernétique' was also used in 1834 by the physicist André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836) to denote the sciences of government in his classification system of human knowledge.
The first artificial automatic regulatory system was a water clock, invented by the mechanician Ktesibios; based on a tank which poured water into a reservoir before using it to run the mechanism, it used a cone-shaped float to monitor the level of the water in its reservoir and adjust the rate of flow of the water accordingly to maintain a constant level of water in the reservoir. This was the first artificial truly automatic self-regulatory device that required no outside intervention between the feedback and the controls of the mechanism. Although they considered this part of engineering (the use of the term cybernetics is much posterior), Ktesibios and others such as Heron and Su Song are considered to be some of the first to study cybernetic principles.
The study of teleological mechanisms (from the Greek τέλος or télos for end, goal, or purpose) in machines with corrective feedback dates from as far back as the late 18th century when James Watt's steam engine was equipped with a governor (1775–1800), a centrifugal feedback valve for controlling the speed of the engine. Alfred Russel Wallace identified this as the principle of evolution in his famous 1858 paper. In 1868 James Clerk Maxwell published a theoretical article on governors, one of the first to discuss and refine the principles of self-regulating devices. Jakob von Uexküll applied the feedback mechanism via his model of functional cycle (Funktionskreis) in order to explain animal behaviour and the origins of meaning in general.
Contemporary cybernetics began as an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mechanical engineering, logic modeling, evolutionary biology and neuroscience in the 1940s; the ideas are also related to the biological work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy in General Systems Theory. Electronic control systems originated with the 1927 work of Bell Telephone Laboratories engineer Harold S. Black on using negative feedback to control amplifiers.
Early applications of negative feedback in electronic circuits included the control of gun mounts and radar antenna during World War II. The founder of System Dynamics, Jay Forrester, worked with Gordon S. Brown during WWII as a graduate student at the Servomechanisms Laboratory at MIT to develop electronic control systems for the U.S. Navy. Forrester later applied these ideas to social organizations, such as corporations and cities and became an original organizer of the MIT School of Industrial Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
W. Edwards Deming, the Total Quality Management guru for whom Japan named its top post-WWII industrial prize, was an intern at Bell Telephone Labs in 1927 and may have been influenced by network theory; Deming made "Understanding Systems" one of the four pillars of what he described as "Profound Knowledge" in his book The New Economics.
Numerous papers spearheaded the coalescing of the field. In 1935 Russian physiologist P. K. Anokhin published a book in which the concept of feedback ("back afferentation") was studied. The study and mathematical modelling of regulatory processes became a continuing research effort and two key articles were published in 1943: "Behavior, Purpose and Teleology" by Arturo Rosenblueth, Norbert Wiener, and Julian Bigelow; and the paper "A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity" by Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts.
In 1936, Ștefan Odobleja published "Phonoscopy and the clinical semiotics". In 1937, he participated in the IX International Congress of Military Medicine with "Demonstration de phonoscopie"; in the paper he disseminated a prospectus announcing his future work, "Psychologie consonantiste", the most important of his writings, where he lays the theoretical foundations of generalized cybernetics. The book, published in Paris by Librairie Maloine (vol. I in 1938 and vol. II in 1939), contains almost 900 pages and includes 300 figures in the text. The author wrote at the time that "this book is ... a table of contents, an index or a dictionary of psychology, [for] a ... great Treatise of Psychology that should contain 20–30 volumes". Due to the beginning of World War II, the publication went unnoticed (the first Romanian edition of this work did not appear until 1982).
Cybernetics as a discipline was firmly established by Norbert Wiener, McCulloch, Arturo Rosenblueth and others, such as W. Ross Ashby, mathematician Alan Turing, and W. Grey Walter (one of the first to build autonomous robots as an aid to the study of animal behaviour). In the spring of 1947, Wiener was invited to a congress on harmonic analysis, held in Nancy (France was an important geographical locus of early cybernetics together with the US and UK); the event was organized by the Bourbaki, a French scientific society, and mathematician Szolem Mandelbrojt (1899–1983), uncle of the world-famous mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot. During this stay in France, Wiener received the offer to write a manuscript on the unifying character of this part of applied mathematics, which is found in the study of Brownian motion and in telecommunication engineering. The following summer, back in the United States, Wiener decided to introduce the neologism cybernetics, coined to denote the study of "teleological mechanisms", into his scientific theory: it was popularized through his book Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (MIT Press/John Wiley and Sons, NY, 1948). In the UK this became the focus for the Ratio Club.
In the early 1940s John von Neumann, although better known for his work in mathematics and computer science, did contribute a unique and unusual addition to the world of cybernetics: von Neumann cellular automata, and their logical follow up, the von Neumann Universal Constructor. The result of these deceptively simple thought-experiments was the concept of self replication, which cybernetics adopted as a core concept. The concept that the same properties of genetic reproduction applied to social memes, living cells, and even computer viruses is further proof of the somewhat surprising universality of cybernetic study.
In 1950, Wiener popularized the social implications of cybernetics, drawing analogies between automatic systems (such as a regulated steam engine) and human institutions in his best-selling The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (Houghton-Mifflin).
In the Soviet Union "bourgeois" cybernetics was initially considered a "pseudoscience" and "ideological weapon" of "imperialist reactionaries" (Soviet Philosophical Dictionary, 1954) and later criticised as a narrow form of cybernetics. In the mid to late 1950s Viktor Glushkov and others salvaged the reputation of the field. Soviet cybernetics incorporated much of what became known as computer science in the West.
While not the only instance of a research organization focused on cybernetics, the Biological Computer Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, under the direction of Heinz von Foerster, was a major center of cybernetic research for almost 20 years, beginning in 1958.
Artificial intelligence (AI) was founded as a distinct discipline at the Dartmouth workshop. After some uneasy coexistence, AI gained funding and prominence. Consequently, cybernetic sciences such as the study of artificial neural networks were downplayed; the discipline shifted into the world of social sciences and therapy.
In the 1970s, new cyberneticians emerged in multiple fields, but especially in biology. The ideas of Maturana, Varela and Atlan, according to Jean-Pierre Dupuy (1986) "realized that the cybernetic metaphors of the program upon which molecular biology had been based rendered a conception of the autonomy of the living being impossible. Consequently, these thinkers were led to invent a new cybernetics, one more suited to the organizations which mankind discovers in nature - organizations he has not himself invented". However, during the 1980s the question of whether the features of this new cybernetics could be applied to social forms of organization remained open to debate.
In political science, Project Cybersyn attempted to introduce a cybernetically controlled economy during the early 1970s. In the 1980s, according to Harries-Jones (1988) "unlike its predecessor, the new cybernetics concerns itself with the interaction of autonomous political actors and subgroups, and the practical and reflexive consciousness of the subjects who produce and reproduce the structure of a political community. A dominant consideration is that of recursiveness, or self-reference of political action both with regards to the expression of political consciousness and with the ways in which systems build upon themselves".
One characteristic of the emerging new cybernetics considered in that time by Felix Geyer and Hans van der Zouwen, according to Bailey (1994), was "that it views information as constructed and reconstructed by an individual interacting with the environment. This provides an epistemological foundation of science, by viewing it as observer-dependent. Another characteristic of the new cybernetics is its contribution towards bridging the micro-macro gap. That is, it links the individual with the society". Another characteristic noted was the "transition from classical cybernetics to the new cybernetics [that] involves a transition from classical problems to new problems. These shifts in thinking involve, among others, (a) a change from emphasis on the system being steered to the system doing the steering, and the factor which guides the steering decisions; and (b) new emphasis on communication between several systems which are trying to steer each other".
Recent endeavors into the true focus of cybernetics, systems of control and emergent behavior, by such related fields as game theory (the analysis of group interaction), systems of feedback in evolution, and metamaterials (the study of materials with properties beyond the Newtonian properties of their constituent atoms), have led to a revived interest in this increasingly relevant field.
The design of self-regulating control systems for a real-time planned economy was explored by economist Oskar Lange, cyberneticist Viktor Glushkov, and others in the former Soviet Union during the 1960s. By the time information technology was developed enough to enable feasible economic planning based on computers, the Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries began moving away from planning and eventually collapsed.
More recent proposals for socialism involve "New Socialism", outlined by the computer scientists Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell, where computers determine and manage the flows and allocation of resources among socially-owned enterprises.
On the other hand, Friedrich Hayek also mentions cybernetics as a discipline that could help economists understand the "self-organizing or self-generating systems" called markets. Being a "complex phenomena", the best way to examine the market functioning is by using the feedback mechanism, explained by cybernetic theorists. That way, economists could make "pattern predictions".
Therefore, the market for Hayek is a "communication system", an "efficient mechanism for digesting dispersed information". The economist and a cyberneticist are like garderners who are "providing the appropriate environment".
Finally, Hayek also considers that Adam Smith's idea of the invisible hand is as anticipation of the operation of the feedback mechanism in cybernetics. In the same book, Law, Legislation and Liberty, Hayek mentions, along with cybernetics, that economists should rely on the scientific findings of Ludwig von Bertalanffy general systems theory, along with information and communication theory and semiotics.
Cybernetics is sometimes used as a generic term, which serves as an umbrella for many systems-related scientific fields.
Cybernetics studies systems of control as a concept, attempting to discover the basic principles underlying such things as
Cybernetics in biology is the study of cybernetic systems present in biological organisms, primarily focusing on how animals adapt to their environment, and how information in the form of genes is passed from generation to generation. There is also a secondary focus on combining artificial systems with biological systems. A notable application to the biology world would be that, in 1955, the physicist George Gamow published a prescient article in Scientific American called "Information transfer in the living cell", and cybernetics gave biologists Jacques Monod and François Jacob a language for formulating their early theory of gene regulatory networks in the 1960s.
Computer science directly applies the concepts of cybernetics to the control of devices and the analysis of information.
Mathematical Cybernetics focuses on the factors of information, interaction of parts in systems, and the structure of systems.
By examining group behavior through the lens of cybernetics, sociologists can seek the reasons for such spontaneous events as smart mobs and riots, as well as how communities develop rules such as etiquette by consensus without formal discussion. Affect Control Theory explains role behavior, emotions, and labeling theory in terms of homeostatic maintenance of sentiments associated with cultural categories. The most comprehensive attempt ever made in the social sciences to increase cybernetics in a generalized theory of society was made by Talcott Parsons. In this way, cybernetics establishes the basic hierarchy in Parsons' AGIL paradigm, which is the ordering system-dimension of his action theory. These and other cybernetic models in sociology are reviewed in a book edited by McClelland and Fararo.
A model of cybernetics in Education was introduced by Gihan Sami Soliman; an educational consultant, as a project idea to be implemented with the help of two team members in Sinai. The Sinai Sustainability Cybernetics Center announced as a semi-finalist project by MIT annual competition 2013. The project idea proposed relating education to sustainable development through an IMS project that applies a multiple educational program related to the original natural self-healing system of life on earth. Education, sustainable development, social justice disciplines interact in a causal circular relationship that education would contribute to the development of the local community in Sinai village, on both sustainability and social responsibility levels while the community itself provides a unique learning environment that will contribute to the development of the educational program in a closed signaling loop.
Nicolas Schöffer's CYSP I (1956) was perhaps the first artwork to explicitly employ cybernetic principles (CYSP is an acronym that joins the first two letters of the words "CYbernetic" and "SPatiodynamic"). The prominent and influential Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition was held at the ICA in 1968 curated by Jasia Reichardt, including Schöffer's CYSP I and Gordon Pask's Colloquy of Mobiles installation. Pask's reflections on Colloquy connected it to his earlier Musicolour installation and to he what he termed "aesthetically potent environments", a concept that connected this artistic work to his concerns with teaching and learning. The artist Roy Ascott elaborated an extensive theory of cybernetic art in "Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision" (Cybernetica, Journal of the International Association for Cybernetics (Namur), Volume IX, No.4, 1966; Volume X No.1, 1967) and in "The Cybernetic Stance: My Process and Purpose" (Leonardo Vol 1, No 2, 1968). Art historian Edward A. Shanken has written about the history of art and cybernetics in essays including "Cybernetics and Art: Cultural Convergence in the 1960s" and From Cybernetics to Telematics: The Art, Pedagogy, and Theory of Roy Ascott (2003), which traces the trajectory of Ascott's work from cybernetic art to telematic art (art using computer networking as its medium, a precursor to net.art.)
Cybernetics was an influence on thinking in architecture and design in the decades after the Second World War. Ashby and Pask were drawn on by design theorists such as Horst Rittel, Christopher Alexander and Bruce Archer. Pask was a consultant to Nicholas Negroponte's Architecture Machine Group, forerunner of the MIT Media Lab, and collaborated with architect Cedric Price and theatre director Joan Littlewood on the influential Fun Palace project during the 1960s. Pask's 1950s Musicolour installation was the inspiration for John and Julia Frazer's work on Price's Generator project. There has been a resurgence of interest in cybernetics and systems thinking amongst designers in recent decades, in relation to developments in technology and increasingly complex design challenges. Figures such as Klaus Krippendorff, Paul Pangaro and Ranulph Glanville have made significant contributions to both cybernetics and design research. The connections between the two fields have come to be understood less in terms of application and more as reflections of each other.
Geocybernetics aims to study and control the complex co-evolution of ecosphere and anthroposphere, for example, for dealing with planetary problems such as anthropogenic global warming. Geocybernetics applies a dynamical systems perspective to Earth system analysis. It provides a theoretical framework for studying the implications of following different sustainability paradigms on co-evolutionary trajectories of the planetary socio-ecological system to reveal attractors in this system, their stability, resilience and reachability. Concepts such as tipping points in the climate system, planetary boundaries, the safe operating space for humanity and proposals for manipulating Earth system dynamics on a global scale such as geoengineering have been framed in the language of geocybernetic Earth system analysis.
A model of cybernetics in Sport was introduced by Yuri Verkhoshansky and Mel C. Siff in 1999 in their book Supertraining.
Complexity science attempts to understand the nature of complex systems.
Aspects of complexity science include:
Biomechatronics relates to linking mechatronics to biological organisms, leading to systems that conform to A. N. Kolmogorov's definition of Cybernetics: "Science concerned with the study of systems of any nature which are capable of receiving, storing and processing information so as to use it for control". From this perspective mechatronics are considered technical cybernetics or engineering cybernetics.
I developed this list of definitions/descriptions in 1987-88 and have been distributing it at ASC (American Society for Cybernetics) conferences since 1988. I added a few items to the list over the next two years, and it has remained essentially unchanged since then. My intent was twofold: (1) to demonstrate that one of the distinguishing features of cybernetics might be that it could legitimately have multiple definitions without contradicting itself, and (2) to stimulate dialogue on what the motivations (intentions, desires, etc.) of those who have proposed different definitions might be.
artificial intelligence was born at a conference at Dartmouth in 1956 that was organized by McCarthy, Minsky, rochester, and shannon, three years after the Macy conferences on cybernetics had ended (Boden 2006; McCorduck 1972). The two movements coexisted for roughly a de- cade, but by the mid-1960s, the proponents of symbolic ai gained control of national funding conduits and ruthlessly defunded cybernetics research. This effectively liquidated the subfields of self-organizing systems, neural networks and adaptive machines, evolutionary programming, biological computation, and bionics for several decades, leaving the workers in management, therapy and the social sciences to carry the torch. i think some of the polemical pushing-and-shoving between first-order control theorists and second-order crowds that i witnessed in subsequent decades was the cumulative result of a shift of funding, membership, and research from the "hard" natural sciences to "soft" socio-psychological interventions.
At some future date it may appear as a joke of history that socialist countries learned at long last to overcome their prejudices and to dismantle clumsy planning mechanisms in favour of more effective market elements just at a time when the rise of computers and of cybernetics laid the foundation for greater opportunities in comprehensive planning.
Biocybernetics is the application of cybernetics to biological science, composed of biological disciplines that benefit from the application of cybernetics including neurology and multicellular systems. Biocybernetics plays a major role in systems biology, seeking to integrate different levels of information to understand how biological systems function.
Biocybernetics is an abstract science and is a fundamental part of theoretical biology, based upon the principles of systemics.Biomedical cybernetics
Biomedical cybernetics investigates signal processing, decision making and control structures in living organisms. Applications of this research field are in biology, ecology and health sciences.Biorobotics
Biorobotics covers the fields of cybernetics, bionics and even genetic engineering as a collective study.
Biorobotics may make robots that emulate or simulate living biological organisms mechanically or even chemically, or make biological organisms as manipulatable and functional as robots, or use biological organisms as components of robots. Biorobotics could use genetic engineering to create organisms designed by artificial means.Black box
In science, computing, and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs (or transfer characteristics), without any knowledge of its internal workings. Its implementation is "opaque" (black). Almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, or the human brain.
To analyse something modeled as an open system, with a typical "black box approach", only the behavior of the stimulus/response will be accounted for, to infer the (unknown) box. The usual representation of this black box system is a data flow diagram centered in the box.
The opposite of a black box is a system where the inner components or logic are available for inspection, which is most commonly referred to as a white box (sometimes also known as a "clear box" or a "glass box").Cyberneticist
A cyberneticist or a cybernetician is a person who practices cybernetics.
Heinz von Foerster once told Stuart Umpleby that Norbert Wiener preferred the term "cybernetician" rather than "cyberneticist", perhaps because Wiener was a mathematician rather than a physicist.
The word cyberneticist was used by Nicolas Rashevsky who began as a theoretical physicist, Robert Rosen, who began his career as a mathematician, regarded Neuro cybernetics—and more generally Biocybernetics—as fields closely allied to Mathematical Biology and Mathematical Biophysics in which control theory and dynamical system theories also play significant roles.
Today "cybernetician" is preferred by members of the American Society for Cybernetics.Cybernetics Guardian
Cybernetics Guardian (Japanese: 聖獣機サイガード, Hepburn: Seijuki Cyguard) is an anime Original Video Animation. The Original Japanese version was released in 1989 by Anime International Company, and an English Language version in 1996, licensed by Central Park Media. It is about John Stalker who is a research pilot for the fictional Central Guard Company. John was born in the city of Cyber-wood, in an area known as the Cancer Slums. The antagonist of the story, Adler, plans to attack the citizens of the Cancer Slums.
In this Japanese animated science fiction adventure, cities of the future are plagued by violence, and the Central Guard Company is commissioned to find a solution to urban crime. One designer creates a Guard Suit with special psychic powers, while another develops a robotic killing machine that will not only eliminate the bad guys, but also get rid of his romantic rivals in the process. But when John Stalker is given the assignment of testing the Guard Suit, it uncovers a dark and dangerous secret he has kept hidden from the world.Engineering cybernetics
Engineering cybernetics or technical cybernetics, established by H.S. Tsien, is a field of cybernetics, which deals with the question of control engineering of mechatronic systems as well as chemical or biological systems. It is used to control and predict the behaviour of such a system; see control theory.
An example of engineering cybernetics is a device designed in the mid-1960s by General Electric Company. Referred to as a CAM (cybernetic anthropomorphous machine), this machine was designed for use by the US Army ground troops. Operated by one man in a "cockpit" at the front end, the machine's "legs" steps were duplicates of the leg movements of the harnessed operator.Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904 – 4 July 1980) was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. In the 1940s, he helped extend systems theory and cybernetics to the social and behavioral sciences. He spent the last decade of his life developing a "meta-science" of epistemology to bring together the various early forms of systems theory developing in different fields of science. His writings include Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1979). Angels Fear (published posthumously in 1987) was co-authored by his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson.
In Palo Alto, California, Bateson and his colleagues Donald Jackson, Jay Haley and John H. Weakland developed the double-bind theory (see also Bateson Project).Bateson's interest in systems theory and cybernetics forms a thread running through his work. He was one of the original members of the core group of the Macy conferences in Cybernetics, and the later set on Group Processes, where he represented the social and behavioral sciences. Bateson was interested in the relationship of these fields to epistemology. His association with the editor and author Stewart Brand helped to widen his influence. From the 1970s until his last years, a broader audience of university students and educated people working in many fields came to know his thought.
In 1956, he became a naturalised citizen of the United States. Bateson was a member of William Irwin Thompson's Lindisfarne Association. In the 1970s, he taught at the Humanistic Psychology Institute (renamed the Saybrook University) in San Francisco; and in 1972 joined the faculty of Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976. In 1976, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Bateson to the Regents of the University of California, in which position he served until his death (although he resigned from the Special Research Projects committee in 1979, in opposition to the university's work on nuclear weapons). He died on Independence Day, 1980, in the guest house of the San Francisco Zen Center.Heinz von Foerster
Heinz von Foerster (German spelling: Heinz von Förster; November 13, 1911, Vienna – October 2, 2002, Pescadero, California) was an Austrian American scientist combining physics and philosophy, and widely attributed as the originator of Second-order cybernetics. He was twice a Guggenheim fellow (1956–57 and 1963–64) and also was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1980. He is well known for his 1960 Doomsday equation formula published in Science predicting future population growth.As a polymath, he wrote nearly two hundred professional papers, gaining renown in fields from computer science and artificial intelligence to epistemology, and researched high-speed electronics and electro-optics switching devices as a physicist, and in biophysics, the study of memory and knowledge. He worked on cognition based on neurophysiology, mathematics, and philosophy and was called "one of the most consequential thinkers in the history of cybernetics". He came to the United States, and stayed after meeting with Warren Sturgis McCulloch, where he received funding from The Pentagon to established the Biological Computer Laboratory, which built the first parallel computer, the Numa-Rete. Working with William Ross Ashby, one of the original Ratio Club members, and together with Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann and Lawrence J. Fogel, Heinz von Foerster was an architect of cybernetics and one of the members of the Macy conferences, eventually becoming editor of its early proceedings alongside Hans-Lukas Teuber and Margaret Mead.IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society
The IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society (IEEE SMCS) is a professional society of the IEEE. It aims "to serve the interests of its members and the community at large by promoting the theory, practice, and interdisciplinary aspects of systems science and engineering, human-machine systems, and cybernetics".Management cybernetics
Management cybernetics is the application of cybernetics to management and organizations. "Management cybernetics" was first introduced by Stafford Beer in the late 1950s. Beer developed the theory through a combination of practical applications and a series of influential books. The practical applications involved steel production, publishing and operations research in a large variety of different industries.Medical cybernetics
Medical cybernetics is a branch of cybernetics which has been heavily affected by the development of the computer, which applies the concepts of cybernetics to medical research and practice. It covers an emerging working program for the application of systems- and communication theory, connectionism and decision theory on biomedical research and health related questions.Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener (November 26, 1894 – March 18, 1964) was an American mathematician and philosopher. He was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and mathematical noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.
Wiener is considered the originator of cybernetics, a formalization of the notion of feedback, with implications for engineering, systems control, computer science, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and the organization of society.
Norbert Wiener is credited as being one of the first to theorize that all intelligent behavior was the result of feedback mechanisms, that could possibly be simulated by machines and was an important early step towards the development of modern AI.Principia Cybernetica
Principia Cybernetica is an international cooperation of scientists in the field of cybernetics and systems science, especially known for their website, Principia Cybernetica. They have dedicated their organization to what they call "a computer-supported evolutionary-systemic philosophy, in the context of the transdisciplinary academic fields of Systems Science and Cybernetics".Second-order cybernetics
Second-order cybernetics, also known as the cybernetics of cybernetics, is the recursive application of cybernetics to itself. It was developed between approximately 1968 and 1975 by Margaret Mead, Heinz von Foerster and others. Von Foerster referred to it as the cybernetics of "observing systems" whereas first order cybernetics is that of "observed systems". It is sometimes referred to as the "new cybernetics", the term preferred by Gordon Pask, and is closely allied to radical constructivism, which was developed around the same time by Ernst von Glasersfeld. While it is sometimes considered a radical break from the earlier concerns of cybernetics, there is much continuity with previous work and it can be thought of as the completion of the discipline, responding to issues evident during the Macy conferences in which cybernetics was initially developed. Its concerns include epistemology, ethics, autonomy, self-consistency, self-referentiality, and self-organizing capabilities of complex systems. It has been characterised as cybernetics where "circularity is taken seriously".Stafford Beer
Stafford Beer (born Anthony Stafford Beer, 25 September 1926 – 23 August 2002) was a British theorist, consultant and professor at the Manchester Business School. He is best known for his work in the fields of operational research and management cybernetics.Systems science
Systems science is an interdisciplinary field that studies the nature of systems—from simple to complex—in nature, society, cognition, engineering, technology and science itself. To systems scientists, the world can be understood as a system of systems. The field aims to develop interdisciplinary foundations that are applicable in a variety of areas, such as psychology, biology, medicine, communication, business management, engineering, and social sciences.Systems science covers formal sciences such as complex systems, cybernetics, dynamical systems theory, information theory, linguistics or systems theory. It has applications in the field of the natural and social sciences and engineering, such as control theory, operations research, social systems theory, systems biology, system dynamics, human factors, systems ecology, systems engineering and systems psychology. Themes commonly stressed in system science are (a) holistic view, (b) interaction between a system and its embedding environment, and (c) complex (often subtle) trajectories of dynamic behavior that sometimes are stable (and thus reinforcing), while at various 'boundary conditions' can become wildly unstable (and thus destructive). Concerns about Earth-scale biosphere/geosphere dynamics is an example of the nature of problems to which systems science seeks to contribute meaningful insights.Systems theory
Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems. A system is a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts that is either natural or man-made. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose or nature and expressed in its functioning. In terms of its effects, a system can be more than the sum of its parts if it expresses synergy or emergent behavior. Changing one part of the system usually affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior. For systems that are self-learning and self-adapting, the positive growth and adaptation depend upon how well the system is adjusted with its environment. Some systems function mainly to support other systems by aiding in the maintenance of the other system to prevent failure. The goal of systems theory is systematically discovering a system's dynamics, constraints, conditions and elucidating principles (purpose, measure, methods, tools, etc.) that can be discerned and applied to systems at every level of nesting, and in every field for achieving optimized equifinality.General systems theory is about broadly applicable concepts and principles, as opposed to concepts and principles applicable to one domain of knowledge. It distinguishes dynamic or active systems from static or passive systems. Active systems are activity structures or components that interact in behaviours and processes. Passive systems are structures and components that are being processed. E.g. a program is passive when it is a disc file and active when it runs in memory. The field is related to systems thinking and systems engineering.W. Ross Ashby
W. Ross Ashby (6 September 1903 in London – 15 November 1972) was an English psychiatrist and a pioneer in cybernetics, the study of the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things. His first name was not used: he was known as Ross Ashby.
His two books, Design for a Brain and An Introduction to Cybernetics, were landmark works. They introduced exact and logical thinking into the brand new discipline of cybernetics and were highly influential.
Subfields of and scientists involved in cybernetics