The term cyberneticsis derived from the Greek word kybernetes (steersman). The term was introduced in 1948 by the mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894–1964) to describe how systems of information and control function in animals and machines (steersman ship). Cybernetics is inherently interdisciplinary; it is related to systems theory, chaos theory, and complexity theory, as well as artificial intelligence, neural networks, and adaptive systems. It developed as a con- sequence of multidisciplinary conversations among thinkers from a variety of disciplines, including economics, psychiatry, life sciences, sociology, anthropology, engineering, chemistry, philosophy, and mathematics. Cybernetics contributed greatly to the development of information theory, artificial intelligence, artificial life, and it foresaw much of the work in robotics and autonomous agents.
After control engineering and computer science became independent disciplines, some cyberneticists felt that more attention needed to be paid to a system’s autonomy, self-organization, and cognition, and the role of the observer in modeling the system. This approach became known as second-order cyberneticsin the early 1970s. Second-order cybernetics emphasizes the system as an agent in its own right and investigates how observers construct models of the systems with which they interact. At times, second-order cybernetics has resulted in the formulation of philosophical approaches that, according to some critics, are in danger of losing touch with concrete phenomena.
Cybernetics moves beyond Newtonian linear physics to describe and control complex systems of mutual causalities and nonlinear time sequences involving feedback loops. It seeks to develop general theories of communication within complex artificial and natural systems. Applications of cybernetic research are widespread and can be found in computer science, politics, education, ecology, psychology, management, and other disciplines. Cybernetics has not become established as an autonomous discipline because of the difficulty of maintaining coherence among some of its more specialized forms and spinoffs. There are thus few research or academic departments devoted to it.
Because of the diffuse interdisciplinarity of cybernetics, theological, religious, and philosophical concerns and engagements are multiple. Some conversations concern the social and economic impact of computer networks, such as the Internet, on culture and nature. Others concern the development of artificial life and artificial intelligence and its impact on how human intelligence and life is understood. Other theological and philosophical concerns of cybernetics include the shape of divine activity in the world, the ‘constructed’ nature of knowledge and of ethical values, the boundaries between bodies and machines and the implications for creation, the promises of salvific technology, and a tendency to strive for a metanarrative or grand unifying theory.
(Author is Pursuing PG in Computer Science and is a Freelancer)