- Forecasting Human/Technology Convergence
- Lose – Lose Posture
- Methods & Deployment
- Practice & Policies
Welcome to Cybernetic Futures!
Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory and purposive systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. The core concept of the discipline is circular causality or feedback—that is, where the outcomes of actions are taken as inputs for further action. Cybernetics is concerned with such processes however they are embodied, including in environmental, technological, biological, cognitive, and social systems, and in the context of practical activities such as designing, learning, managing, and conversation.
Cybernetics has its origins in the intersection of the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mechanical engineering, logic modeling, fuzzy logic, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and psychology in the 1940s, often attributed to the Macy Conferences. Since then, cybernetics has become even broader in scope to include work in domains such as design, family therapy, management and organisation, pedagogy, sociology, and the creative arts. At the same time, questions arising from circular causality have been explored in relation to the philosophy of science, ethics, and constructivist approaches. Contemporary cybernetics thus varies widely in scope and focus, with cyberneticians variously adopting and combining technical, scientific, philosophical, creative, and critical approaches.
In architecture and design
Cybernetics was an influence on thinking in architecture and design in the decades after the Second World War. Ashby and Pask were drawn on by design theorists such as Horst Rittel, Christopher Alexander and Bruce Archer. Pask was a consultant to Nicholas Negroponte’s Architecture Machine Group, forerunner of the MIT Media Lab, and collaborated with architect Cedric Price and theatre director Joan Littlewood on the influential Fun Palace project during the 1960s. Pask’s 1950s Musicolour installation was the inspiration for John and Julia Frazer’s work on Price’s Generator project.
There has been a resurgence of interest in cybernetics and systems thinking amongst designers in recent decades, in relation to developments in technology and increasingly complex design challenges. Figures such as Klaus Krippendorff, Paul Pangaro and Ranulph Glanville have made significant contributions to both cybernetics and design research. The connections between the two fields have come to be understood less in terms of application and more as reflections of each other.
Heinz von Foerster attributes the origin of second-order cybernetics to the attempts by cyberneticians to construct a model of the mind:
… a brain is required to write a theory of a brain. From this follows that a theory of the brain, that has any aspirations for completeness, has to account for the writing of this theory. And even more fascinating, the writer of this theory has to account for her or himself. Translated into the domain of cybernetics; the cybernetician, by entering his own domain, has to account for his or her own activity. Cybernetics then becomes cybernetics of cybernetics, or second-order cybernetics.
Many cyberneticians draw a sharp distinction between first and second order cybernetics, others stress the continuity between the two, and the implicit second order qualities of earlier cybernetics.
The anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead contrasted first and second-order cybernetics with this diagram in an interview in 1973. Referring to the Macy conferences, it emphasizes the requirement for a participant observer in the second order case:
- … essentially your ecosystem, your organism-plus-environment, is to be considered as a single circuit.
- … from information to coupling
- … from the reproduction of “order-from-order” (Schroedinger 1944) to the generation of “order-from-noise” (von Foerster 1960)
- … from transmission of data to conversation
- … from external observation to participant observation – an approach that could be assimilated to Maturana and Varela‘s concept of autopoiesis.
Architected Cybernetic Futures
EATSv5 Knowledge Repository
- KR Schedule of Components