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Cybernetics is the science of control and communication. All systems can be analyze with formalized descriptions of how they process and store messages and especially feedback loops, the output of which is re-used as inputs. Cybernetics is now rarely used in discourse, having been replaced by its many avatars such as complexity theory, artificial life, network dynamics, cognitive science, robotics, which are all part of a broader 'systems theory'.
"Cybernetics was born in the mid-nineteen-forties, as scholars in various disciplines began noticing that social, natural, and mechanical systems exhibit similar patterns of self-regulation. Norbert Wiener’s classic “Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine” (1948) discussed human behavior by drawing on his close observation of technologies like the radar and the thermostat. The latter is remarkable for how little it needs to know in order to do its job. It doesn’t care whether what’s making the room so hot is your brand-new plasma TV or the weather outside. It just needs to compare its actual output (the temperature right now) with its predefined output (the desired temperature) and readjust its input (whatever mechanism is producing heat or cold).
Wiener held that a patient suffering from purpose tremor—spilling a glass of water before raising it to his lips—was akin to a malfunctioning thermostat. Both rely on “negative feedback”—“negative” because it tends to oppose what the system is doing. In a way, our bodies are feedback machines: we maintain our body temperature without a specially programmed response for “condition: bathhouse” or “condition: tundra.” The tendency to self-adjust is known as homeostasis, and it’s ubiquitous in both the natural and the mechanical worlds. For Beer, in fact, corporations are homeostats. They have a clear goal—survival—and are full of feedback loops: between the company and its suppliers or between workers and management. And if we can make homeostatic corporations why not homeostatic governments?" (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/13/planning-machine?)
Cybernetics in the context of Common Cybernetics
"Cybernetics can be understood as a trans-disciplinary discourse which articulates common threads between all complex systems (whether they are neurological, biological, mechanical, psychological, organisational, ecological, computational, social, etc). It's founders' goal was to develop a way of talking about all such complex systems in a shared language, which would allow the physicist to understand the anthropologist, the engineer to understand the sociologist, and so on.
Ripples of cybernetics have emerged across the world and throughout time. Prior to its development in the western capitalist world Alexander Bogdanov developed his own “tectology” which aimed to develop an understanding of the organisational principles underlying all systems. Tectology can be understood as another name for cybernetics.
Within the context of c/cyb, cybernetics can be defined more or less loosely, depending on its implementation. As a consequence of this malleability, c/cyb's conception of cybernetics is left intentionally under-specified. Those with a detailed understanding of cybernetics can apply it themselves, and those without can pursue those cybernetic technics which require less preliminary knowledge. Whatever is appropriate to their purpose.
Cybernetic materials are often conceptual, textual or conversational, but can be just as easily embodied in machines, devices, buildings, organisational structures, software designs, databases or whatever other material form. Any cybernetic resource which may aid the provision of the common is a legitimate object of c/cyb.
Any sufficiently complex system can ultimately be understood as being cybernetic, in that it obeys the same universal laws of organisation which cybernetics delineates. Rowers on a boat, a swarm of ants, or the man-horse assemblag2 serve as examples of various materials coming together to constitute cybernetic systems. C/cyb aims to direct these systems towards common ends." (https://tektology.substack.com/p/common-cybernetics)
- Cybernetics of the Commons
- Cybernetics Valuable to the Commons and for Understanding AI. By Jan Krikke.