What is Cybernetics?



Cybernetics was christened publically with the publication of Cybernetics, by Norbert Wiener (1948). Two short extracts follow, both written by Professor F.H. George. The first is a summary (circa 1980) defining Cybernetics, the second (1965) outlines the major classes of Cybernetic problems.



Cybernetics could be thought of as a recently developed science, although to some extent it cuts across existing sciences. If we think of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc. as traditional sciences, then Cybernetics is a classification which cuts across them all.

Cybernetics is formally defined as the science of control and communication in animals, men and machines. It extracts, from whatever context, that which is concerned with information processing and control.

One major characteristic of Cybernetics is its preoccupation with the construction of models and here it overlaps operational research. Cybernetic models are usually distinguished by being hierarchical, adaptive and making permanent use of feedback loops.

Cybernetics in some ways is like the science of organisation, with special emphasis on the dynamic nature of the system being organised. The human brain is just such a complex organisation which qualifies for cybernetic study. It has all the characteristics of feedback, storage, etc. and is also typical of many large businesses or Government departments.

The central feature of Cybernetics is that of artificial intelligence, where the aim is to show how artificially manufactured systems can demonstrate intelligent behaviour. There are also various fields of applied cybernetics where this same decision can be shown to operate in fields like education, engineering, accountancy, and so on and so forth.


Problems of Cybernetics

We can, perhaps rather arbitrarily, divide the aims of Cybernetics into three classes as follows:-

1. To construct an effective theory, with or without actual hardware models, such that the various aspects of human and other sorts of behaviour can be simulated.

2. To produce models and theories of human behaviour which present these functions of human beings and other systems in the same manner in which they are performed by human beings or other such systems as are considered. In other words, it is not enough merely to produce the same end result; we want to produce the same end result by similar or even identical means.

3. Finally, to produce, or simulate, the whole of human or animal behaviour by models which in their construction are identical with human beings or animals. That is, they should in the end be chemico-colloidal systems, or protoplasmic systems.



The above, with a few exceptions, is still very relevant to modern research domains. Indeed, it is very useful in letting one see just what is and is not new about today's hot research areas.