Principia Cybernetica Web

Cybernetic Technology

Cybernetics was originally defined in 1947 by Wiener as the science of communication and control, and grew out of Shannon's information theory, which was designed to optimize the transfer of information through communication channels (e.g. telephone lines), and the feedback concept used in engineering control systems. Information and control technologies have gone a very long way since, especially through the introduction of the computer as an all-purpose information processing tool. Most of the presently most fashionable computing applications derive from ideas originally proposed by cyberneticians several decades ago: AI, neural networks, machine learning, autonomous agents, artificial life, man-machine interaction, etc.

The domain of computing applications has grown so quickly that labeling anything that uses a computer as "cybernetic" is more obscuring than enlightening. Therefore we would restrict the label "cybernetic technology" to those information processing and transmitting tools that somehow increase the general purpose "intelligence" of the user, that is to say the control the user has over information and communication.

Especially all "value-added" computer-supported communication technologies (electronic mailing list, such as PRNCYB-L, newsgroups and bulletin boards, various forms of groupware, electronic publishing tools such as FTP or WWW) fall under this heading. They make it possible to exchange information in a very fast, simple and reliable way, so that it is automatically stored and ready for immediate further processing or transfer. The practical implication is that communication channels between far-away locations becomes so flexible and direct that they remind us of nerves, connecting and controlling different parts of an organism. The group of cooperators thus can behave more like a single system, with a vastly increased knowledge and intelligence, rather than like a collection of scattered individuals who now and then exchange limited messages, that need a lot of time to reach their destination and be processed.

In addition to communication, there is the aspect of increased control over information. The is especially obvious in computing tools that offer some kind of additional intelligence to the user: 1) everything deriving from artificial intelligence, and its daughter fields, such as expert systems, machine learning, and neural networks, where certain cognitive processes are automatized and thus taken over from the user; 2) the different tools that offer better ways to organize and represent information or knowledge, i.e. that support the user in building useful models. This category includes all types of computer simulation (e.g. virtual reality), knowledge representation tools, hypertext and multimedia, databases and information retrieval. The two features of computer intelligence and modelling are merged in what may be called "knowledge structuring": the use of computer programs that reorganize models in order to make them more adequate (more correct, simple, rich, easy-to-use, ...). (see a short paper by me, suggesting a possible way to introduce knowledge structuring in hypertexts)

The merging of the twin cybernetic dimensions of communication and control leads us to envision an all-encompassing, "intelligent" communication network, cyberspace, which may form the substrate for an emerging world-wide super-brain.

See also: Cybermedia

Copyright© 1993 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page


Oct 18, 1993


Reference material

Cybernetics and Systems Theory

What are Cybernetics and Systems Science?

Prev. Next


Cybernetic Theory and Cybernetic Practice


Add comment...