Basic Notions – Cybernetics

Basic Notions - Cybernetics

The distinguished mathematician Norbert Wiener[1] coined the word Cybernetics from Greek κυβερνητική (kybernētikḗ), from Latin gubernātor, meaning helmsperson, steersperson, or pilot, as steering a boat, the helmsperson looks towards a goal and battling the wind and waves, they continuously course-correct until they reach the destination, so is Cybernetics: “The science of control and communication in the animal and the machine,” wrote Norbert Winer in the first book on the subject in 1948.

As it happens, the origin of cybernetics can be rooted back to 1943 when working on wartime projects, a group of world authorities in different and diverse subjects, such as Norbert Wiener (Mathematics), Arturo Rosenblueth (Neurophysiology), Margaret Mead (Anthropology), William Ross Ashby (Psychiatry), Gregory Bateson (Anthropology), Warren McCulloch (Neurophysiology), and many others gathered[2] and out of their interdisciplinary discussions emerged the idea of control as a singular shared concept between all areas of human knowledge, building the groundwork for Cybernetics, the science of control and communication.

Noting that cybernetics is holistic, it is about physical, biological, political, technological, chemical, psychological, social, and all complex and dynamic systems, and as they all have the notion of control deeply engrained, it presents the most comprehensive language to describe complex systems. Moreover, it is a fundamental concept firmly linked to many important notions such as intelligence, success, survival, and so on; as is the case in each of these, constant and dynamic course-corrections and ensuring that targets are achieved are vital and integral notions.

 

All intelligent systems have this property deployed within, and in one way or another, they constantly adjust numerous parameters to maintain a target, be it steering towards a running pray on rough terrain, or adjusting the blood sugar level, or writing on a piece of paper, all is done through constant and concurrent loops of sensing-comparing-choosing-acting of self-correcting and control.

 

References

[1] Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

 

[2] It’s worth mentioning that this group of extraordinary people further on formed the Macy Conferences chaired by McCulloch with the intention of promoting meaningful communication across scientific disciplines. (Summary: The Macy Conferences, 2021)

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