week 1 blog – cybernetics

  1. define cybernetics
  2. how has cybernetics changed since the 1960s?
  3. define the 4 most important attributes of a cybernetic system

What is cybernetics? In the contemporary rhetoric, it is commonly considered to refer to some kind of mechanism involving electronics and/or robotics; in fact, however, the central definition of cybernetics is not necessarily associated with such connotations at all. Cybernetics refers to a kind of system that has a set goal and is in essence one or many processes that attempt to reach the goal, being self-adjusting based on feedbacks it gets from the repeated running (loop) of such processes so that it is constantly moving closer toward the completion of the goal.

During the 1950s and ’60s, when the term “cybernetics” was just entering people’s view, it stemmed out of scientific researches in comparing the functioning mechanism of animals (living objects) and machines (non-living objects). After it became a generally recognized category of system, the theory was mostly employed in rather narrow research fields such as robotics and Artificial Intelligence development. As time past by, “[m]any of the core ideas of cybernetics have been assimilated by other disciplines” after the ’60s (Heylighen & Joslyn 5). New areas of study such as interaction design are heavily based on cybernetic theories and principles; the object-oriented system logic ubiquitous in computer science, designing and many other fields nowadays is also a principle that’s central to cybernetics: “Objects work toward internal stability while interacting with larger systems” (Wade n.p).

Cybernetic systems can be further divided into different categories depending on their use of either positive or negative feedbacks. A positive feedback model means the cybernetic system has a set goal and, in its interaction with the outside environment, the behavior of the system is constantly reinforced, as in a virtuous circle; a negative feedback model means the system has a set goal and is forever adjusting itself in order to achieve the goal, and the negative feedback is the feedback it receives that informs it its deviation from the goal so that the deviation can be corrected by the system. In Roy Ascott’s essay on cybernetic art, he explains how the direction where modern and contemporary art was heading towards is inseparable from the cybernetic logic and system, since art started to become a subjective, instead of objective, look on the world, and the input and interaction with the artwork from the audience started to be greatly valued. In this case, modern art is mostly employing the positive feedback system, since it values the interaction process based on audience feedbacks more than the result of the interaction or artistic gesture.

The four most important attributes of a cybernetic system, in my understanding, is feedback, loop, change and goal. It is crucial to a self-adjusting system to have a goal and a means to receive feedback so that it would make according adjustments, which would create change in the system – not that the system itself and its logic would necessarily change, but elements in it, so that it could possibly achieve an equilibrium. The notion of looping – that the system needs to be run over and over again – is also significant to the functionality of a cybernetic system since it serves as the basis for constant feedback; otherwise, the system would be static.

Works Cited:

Ascott, Roy. “Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision.” Multimedia. From Wagner to Virtual Reality. Ed. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. n.d. Web. 10 Feb 2016.

Francis Heylighen & Cliff Joslyn (2001). “Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics”. Encyclopedia of Physical Science & Technology, 3rd ed. R. A. Meyers. New York: Academic Press. pp. 5.

Pangaro, Paul. “Cybernetics – A Definition.” Paul Pangaro PhD. 2013. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Wade, Nathan. “Systems Theory and Cybernetics.” University of California, San Diego. Center Hall, UCSD, La Jolla, CA. 2 Nov. 2015. Powerpoint Presentation.


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