Cybernetics


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Abstract
The term cybernetics was first used in 1947 by Norbert Wiener with reference to the centrifugal governor that James Watt had fitted to his steam engine, and above all to Clerk Maxwell, who had subjected governors to a general mathematical treatment in 1868. Wiener used the word “governor” in the sense of the Latin corruption of the Greek term kubernetes, or “steersman.” Wiener defined cybernetics as the study of “control and communication in the animal and the machine” (Wiener 1948). This definition captures the original ambition of cybernetics to appear as a unified theory of the behavior of living organisms and machines, viewed as systems governed by the same physical laws. The initial phase of cybernetics involved disciplines more or less directly related to the study of such systems, like communication and control engineering, biology, psychology, logic, and neurophysiology. Very soon, a number of attempts were made to place the concept of control at the focus of analysis also in other fields, such as economics, sociology, and anthropology. The original ambition of “classical” cybernetics thus seemed to involve also several human sciences, as it developed in a highly interdisciplinary approach, aimed at seeking common concepts and methods in rather different disciplines. In classical cybernetics, this ambition did not produce the desired results and new approaches had to be attempted in order to achieve them, at least partially. In this chapter, we shall focus our attention in the first place on the specific topics and key concepts of the original program in cybernetics and their significance for some classical philosophic problems (those related to ethics are dealt with in Chapter 5, COMPUTER ETHICS, and Chapter 6, COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION AND HUMAN–COMPUTER INTERACTION). We shall then examine the various limitations of cybernetics. This will enable us to assess different, more recent, research programs that are either ideally related to cybernetics or that claim, more strongly, to represent an actual reappraisal of it on a completely new basis.
Keywords Cybernetics  Artificial Neural Networks  Robotics  Dynamical Systems
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