17 November 2010


This word came up on Twitter today:
@socratic I chuckle every time I see the word "cyber" in a promotion or advertisement. Welcome to 1999!
I remember it from science fiction that I read in my teenage years, but I'm not sure where I saw it first. 
n : (biology) the field of science concerned with processes of
communication and control (especially the comparison of
these processes in biological and artificial systems)

-- From WordNet (r) 2.0
This reference dates the word to 1948:

The term was first proposed by Norbert Wiener in the book referenced below. Originally, cybernetics drew upon electrical engineering, mathematics, biology, neurophysiology, anthropology, and psychology to study and describe actions,feedback, and response in systems of all kinds. It aims to understand the similarities and differences in internal workings of organic and machine processes and, by formulating abstract concepts common to all systems, to understand their behaviour.

Modern "second-order cybernetics" places emphasis on how the process of constructing models of the systems is influenced by those very systems, hence an elegant definition - "applied epistemology".

Related recent developments (often referred to as sciences of complexity) are distinguished as separate disciplines are artificial intelligence, networks}, systems theory, chaos theory, the boundaries between those and cybernetics proper are not precise.

["Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine", N. Wiener, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1948]


-- From The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (27 SEP 03)

Norbert Weiner published his book in 1948. Wikipedia says that "Weiner is regarded as the originator of cybernetics..." Wikipedia also gives the following definition of the word:

Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary[1] approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Cybernetics is relevant to the study of mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. Cybernetics is only applicable when the system being analysed is involved in a closed signal loop; that is, where action by the system causes some change in its environment and that change is fed to the system via information (feedback) that enables the system to change its behavior. This "circular causal" relationship is necessary and sufficient for a cybernetic perspective.

The reader is encouraged to read the entire page.

One may suspect that many a modern English-speaker would define cybernetic as "of or relating to computers." In 1948, while computers did exist, they were neither as ubiquitous nor powerful as they are today. The very word "systems" implies "computer" in current parlance. A "Systems Administrator" is a computer network administrator. "Information Systems" are assumed to be computer networks.

What do you suppose comes to mind when someone says "social systems" in 2012?


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