Imagine a scenario where you have to pick up your nephew from school. In this setting, your ‘goal’ is to go to school and bring your nephew home. But what if a sinkhole appears on the course you’re taking? Well, you look around for alternative routes and take the one you prefer best to get to your nephew. That’s cybernetics. Intrinsically. It’s all about having a goal, taking up different measures and getting to act to achieve that goal.
Norbert Wiener is considered to be the father of cybernetics. He defined cybernetics as “the study of control and communication in organic and mechanical systems.” In more practical terms however, it is a branch of science concerning the way human brains and mechanical systems work and developing complex artificial systems which are programmed to think and carry out specific tasks like humans.
The term was vaguely used by a French physicist André-Marie Ampère in one of his classifications of Science, but was forgotten and never used until it was reintroduced into modern science by Norbert Wiener in 1947. A year later, Wiener published his book Cybernetics, and it soon popularized the term. In fact, the date the book got published marked the birth of cybernetics as an independent unit of science.
The centerpiece of cybernetics is its regulation based on feedback control systems, especially its role in working of neural networks. When a system or a machine is given a goal, it generates action which then induces structure and parameter changes within the system. The system then senses these changes (feedback) and correct itself and steers towards its goal.
The Relationship Between Cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence And Human Brain
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the sub-categories of cybernetics. Many consider both to be the same thing because the affinity to develop such contraption whose circuit arrangements are analogous to the wiring of the human brain ultimately inspired scientists to start working on developing Artificial Intelligence.
In essence, this whole idea of incorporating cybernetics to artificial intelligence goes to show Wiener endeavored to accouter his finding with a theory of information that is strikingly similar to the description of ‘‘negative entropy’’ in physical systems.
Cybernetics In Science Fiction
If you have ever come across Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory, you can see that the concept of cybernetics sits astride with it.
On a different note, the development of such systems and their aptness to direct and control other kinds of machinery have pushed its necessity to a new height. Also, by the end of the century, computer scientists began concocting portmanteau words such as cyberspace, cyberpunk and cyberculture.
The concept of cybernetics also made such a shockwave in the 50s that it inspired writers to make conscientious introduction of the subject in number of contemporary science fiction novels.
The Cybernetic Brain (1949) by Charles Recour, Darwinian Pool Room (1950) by Isaac Asimov, and in Bernard Wolfe’s Self Portrait (1951) are some of the notable examples. Most fictional adaptations of cybernetics, be it in movies or books, are hooked on its application on developing AI and making of cyborgs.
Well, if this whole narrative shrouded with obscurity, read Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972). Also Loren MacGregor’s The Net (1987) has one of the most detailed extrapolations of cybernetic theory.