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The History and Development of Cybernetics
Presented by The George Washington University in Cooperation with The American Society for Cybernetics The History and Development of Cybernetics
History of Cybernetics Many years ago...
The things a person had to understand to get through life were relatively uncomplicated. Relative Complication
Every object or process, which we shall refer to as a system, was relatively simple. Objects & Processes
In fact, up until the last few hundred years, it was possible for some people to master a significant portion of man's existing knowledge. Knowledge Mastery Leonardo DaVinci
Leonardo Da Vinci was a leader in the fields of painting... Da Vinci – Painting
... sculpture... Da Vinci, cont. – Sculpture
... anatomy... Da Vinci, cont. – Anatomy
... architecture... Da Vinci, cont. – Architecture
... aeronautical engineering. This is his sketch for a 16th century flying machine... Da Vinci, cont. – Aeronautical Engineering
... and for a parachute in case the machine broke down. Da Vinci, cont. – Aeronautical Engineering, cont.
As time passed, the systems that humans were concerned with became... Complexity Systems Complexity
... more and more complicated. Systems Complexity, cont.
Transportation systems alone have become more complex... Systems Complexity, cont.
... and more complex... Systems Complexity, cont.
... and more complex... Systems Complexity, cont.
... and more complex... Systems Complexity, cont.
... as have energy systems. Systems Complexity, cont.
Some people have suggested that technology... Technology Advances
... is advancing so rapidly it... Technology Advances, cont.
... is outpacing our ability to control it. Technology Advances, cont. Three Mile Island
Clearly, it is no longer possible for one person to keep up with developments in all fields, let alone be a leader in many of them, as Leonardo Da Vinci was. Keeping up with Developments
Specialization has become a necessity. How then, do we live and work effectively in a technically advanced society? How to Live and Work in a Technically Advanced Society?
Underlying Principles Is there a way that you, the modern man or woman, can sort through the complexity, formulate a set of principles underlying all systems and thereby enhance your ability to regulate the world in which you live?
Cybernetics = Regulation of Systems This question was of interest to a handful of people in the 1940s who were the pioneers in a field that has become known as Cybernetics, the science of the regulation of systems. Cybernetics = Regulation of Systems
Cybernetics is an interdisciplinary science that looks at any and all systems from molecules... Cybernetics – an Interdisciplinary Science
... to galaxies, with special attention to machines, animals and societies. What Cybernetics Looks at
Cybernetics is derived from the Greek word for steersman or helmsman, who provides the control system for a boat or ship. Derivation of Cybernetics
This word was coined in 1948 and defined as a science by Norbert Wiener, who was born in 1894 and died in He became known as the Father of Cybernetics. Norbet Weiner
Wiener was an applied mathematician, biologist, and electrical engineer. He worked during World War II on the radar-guided anti-aircraft gun. Wiener – Radar
He connected a special radar to the gun so that it was aimed automatically at the enemy aircraft. After the gun was fired, the radar quickly determined the changing location of the plane and re-aimed the gun until the plane was shot down. Weiner – Radar, cont.
The system imitated human functions and performed them more effectively. Wiener – Radar and Human Factor Imitation
Feedback The anti-aircraft gun demonstrates the cybernetic principle of feedback. Feedback is information about the results of a process which is used to change the process. The radar provided information about the changes in location of the enemy airplane and this information was used to correct the aiming of the gun. Feedback
A more familiar example of the use of feedback to regulate a system is the common thermostat for heating a room. Feedback – Thermostat
Room Temperature Rises to 70 0 If the heating system is adjusted, as is common, to allow a maximum of 2 degrees variation, when the thermostat is set at 68 degrees the temperature will rise to 70 degrees... Thermostat Feedback Example
Room Temperature Rises to 70 0 Furnace Turns Off... before a temperature sensor in the thermostat triggers the furnace to turn off. Thermostat Feedback Example, cont.
Room Temperature Rises to 70 0 Room Temperature Falls to 66 0 Furnace Turns Off The furnace will remain off until the temperature of the room has fallen to 66 degrees... Thermostat Feedback Example, cont.
Furnace Turns On Room Temperature Rises to 70 0 Furnace Turns Off Room Temperature Falls to then the sensor in the thermostat triggers the furnace to turn on again. Thermostat Feedback Example, cont.
Self Regulating System The sensor provides a feedback loop of information that allows the system to detect a difference from the desired temperature of 68 degrees and to make a change to correct the error. As with the anti-aircraft gun and the airplane, this system – consisting of the thermostat, the heater and the room – is said to regulate itself through feedback and is a self-regulating system. Self Regulating System
The human body is one of the richest sources of examples of feedback that leads to the regulation of a system. For example, when your stomach is empty, information is passed to your brain. Human Body – Feedback Leading to System Regulation
When you have taken corrective action, by eating, your brain is similarly notified that your stomach is satisfied. Feedback – Corrective Action
Time Stomach Feels Empty Person Eats Stomach Feels Full In a few hours, the process starts all over again. This feedback loop continues throughout our lives. Feedback – Hunger Example
The human body is such a marvel of self-regulation that early cyberneticians studied its processes and used it as a model to design machines that were self- regulating. One famous machine called the homeostat was constructed in the 1940s by a British scientist, Ross Ashby. Human Body and Cybernetics Studies
Just as the human body maintains a 98.6 degree temperature the homeostat could maintain the same electrical current, despite changes from the outside. Homeostat
Homeostasis The homeostat, the human being, and the thermostat all are said to maintain homeostasis or equilibrium, through feedback loops of various kinds. It does not matter how the information is carried – just that the regulator is informed of some change which calls for some kind of adaptive behavior.
Another scientist, Grey Walter, also pursued the concept of imitating the self-regulating features of man and animals. Grey Walter – Self Regulating Man and Animals
His favorite project was building mechanical 'tortoises' that would, like this live tortoise, move about freely and have certain attributes of an independent life. Grey Walter – Mechanical Tortoises
Walter is pictured here with his wife Vivian, their son Timothy, and Elsie the tortoise. Elsie has much in common with Timothy. Just as Timothy seeks out food, which is stored in his body in the form of fat, Elsie seeks out light which she 'feeds' on and transforms into electrical energy which charges an accumulator inside her. Then she's ready for a nap, just like Timothy after a meal, in an area of soft light. Grey Walter and Family
Although Elsie's behavior imitates that of a human, her anatomy is very different. This is what Elsie looks like underneath her shell. The Anatomy of Elsie
She looks a lot more like the inside of a transistor radio than... Simulating a Humans Function
... the inside of a human body. But as a cybernetician, Walter was not interested in imitating the physical form of a human being, but in simulating a human's functions. Simulating a Humans Function
What Is This Thing? What Does it Do? Cybernetics does not ask but... Not What Is, but What Does it Do?
Grey Walter did not attempt to simulate the physical form of a human, as does a sculptor, but to simulate human functions. Simulating Human Functions
Not as Objects, Processes In other words, he viewed humans but as... Not Objects, but Processes
For centuries, people have designed machines to help with human tasks and not just tasks requiring muscle power. Designs to Help with Human Tasks
Automata, such as the little moving figures of people or animals that emerge from cuckoo clocks and music boxes, were popular in the 1700's and machines capable of thinking were a subject for speculation long before the electronic computer was invented. Automata
Macy Foundation Meetings From 1946 to 1953 there was a series of meetings to discuss feedback loops and circular causality in self-regulating systems. The meetings, sponsored by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, were interdisciplinary, attended by engineers, mathematicians, neurophysiologists, and others. Macy Foundation Meetings
The chairman of these meetings, Warren McCulloch, wrote that these scientists had great difficulty understanding each other, because each had his or her own professional language. Professionals Speak Different Languages
There were heated arguments that were so exciting that Margaret Mead, who was in attendance, once did not even notice that she had broken a tooth until after the meeting. Margaret Mead Breaks A Tooth
The later meetings went somewhat more calmly as the members developed a common set of experiences. Meetings Calm with Common Experiences
These meetings, along with the 1948 publication of Norbert Wiener's book titled 'Cybernetics,' served to lay the groundwork for the development of cybernetics as we know it today. Laying the Groundwork for Cybernetics
Here is a photograph taken in the 1950s of the four prominent early cyberneticians that you have already met. From left to right they are: Ross Ashby of homeostat fame; Warren McCulloch, organizer of the Macy Foundation meetings; Grey Walter, creator of Elsie, the tortoise; and Norbert Wiener, who suggested that the field be called Cybernetics.' Prominent Early Cyberneticians
Neurophysiology + Mathematics + Philosophy Warren McCulloch was a key figure in enlarging the scope of cybernetics. Although a psychiatrist by training, McCulloch combined his knowledge of neurophysiology, mathematics, and philosophy to better understand a very complex system... Neurophysiology, Mathematics, and Philosophy
... the human nervous system. The Human Nervous System
He believed that the functioning of the nervous system could be described in the precise language of mathematics. Human Nervous System and Mathematical Equations
For example, he developed an equation which explained the fact that when a cold object such as an ice cube touches the skin for a brief instant, paradoxically it gives the sensation of heat rather than cold. Cold = Hot
Neurophysiology + Mathematics + Philosophy McCulloch used not only mathematics and neurophysiology to understand the nervous system but also philosophy – a rare combination. Scientists and philosophers are often considered miles apart in their interests – scientists study real, concrete,... Neurophysiology, Mathematics and Philosophy
... physical things, like plants,... Plants
... animals,... Animals
... and minerals, while philosophers,... Minerals
... study abstract things like ideas, thoughts, and concepts. Abstract Ideas, Thoughts, and Concepts
Epistemology = Study of Knowledge McCulloch could see that there is a connection between the science of neurophysiology and a branch of philosophy called epistemology, which is the study of knowledge. Epistemology = Study of Knowledge
While knowledge is usually considered invisible and abstract, McCulloch realized that knowledge is formed in a physical organ of the body, the brain. Knowledge – Formed in the Brain
PhysicalAbstract Brain Mind Knowledge The mind is, in fact, the meeting place between the brain and an idea, between the physical and the abstract, between science and philosophy. The Mind – The Meeting Place Between the Brain and an Idea
PhilosophicalPhysical Experimental Epistemology McCulloch founded a new field of study based on this intersection of the physical and the philosophical. This field of study he called 'experimental epistemology,' the study of knowledge through neurophysiology. The goal was to explain how the activity of a nerve network results in what we experience as feelings and ideas. Experimental Epistemology
Cybernetics = Regulation of Systems Why is McCulloch's work so important to cyberneticians? Remember, cybernetics is the science of the regulation of systems. Cybernetics = Regulation of Systems
The human brain is perhaps the most remarkable regulator of all, regulating the human body as well as many other systems in its environment. A theory of how the brain operates is a theory of how all of human knowledge is generated. Human Brain – The Most Remarkable Regulator of All
Whereas an anti-aircraft gun and a thermostat are devices constructed by people to regulate certain systems, the mind is a system that constructs itself and regulates itself. We shall say more about this phenomenon in a few minutes. Mind – Regulates Itself
Other Concepts in Cybernetics Now that we have touched on some of the key people, their interests, and their contributions, we shall look at a few additional concepts in cybernetics. Other Cybernetic Concepts
Law of Requisite Variety One important concept is the law of requisite variety. This law states that as a system becomes more complex, the controller of that system must also become more complex, because there are more functions to regulate. In other words, the more complex the system that is being regulated, the more complex the regulator of the system must be. Law of Requisite Variety
Let's return to our example of a thermostat. Thermostat Example, Revisited
If a house has only a furnace, the thermostat can be quite simple – since it controls only the furnace. Furnace = Simplicity
However, if the house has both a furnace and an air conditioner, the thermostat must be more complex – it will have more switches, knobs, or buttons – since it must control two processes – both heating and cooling. Furnace + Air Conditioner = Complexity
The same principle applies to living organisms. Human beings have the most complex nervous system and brain of any of the animals. This allows them to engage in many different activities and to have complex bodies. Humans – Most Complex Nervous System
In contrast, some animals such as the starfish,... Starfish System
... sea cucumber,... Sea Cucumber System
... and sea anemone have no centralized brain, but only a simple nerve network, which is all that is required to regulate the simpler bodies and functions of these sea animals. In summary, the more complex the animal, the more complex the brain needs to be. More Complex the Animal, the More complex the Brain
The law of requisite variety not only applies to controlling machines and human bodies, but to social systems as well. For example, in order to control crime, it is not necessary or feasible to have one policeman for each citizen, because not all activities of citizens need regulation... Social Systems
... just illegal ones. Therefore, one or two police for every thousand people generally provides the necessary capability for regulating illegal activities. Capability to Regulate
In this case a match between the variety in the regulator and the variety in the system being regulated is achieved not by increasing the complexity of the regulator, but by reducing the variety in the system being regulated. That is, rather than hiring many policemen, we simply decide to regulate fewer aspects of human behavior. Regulation – Increase Complexity of Regulator and System being Regulated
Self Organizing Systems The self-organizing system is another cybernetic concept, which we all see demonstrated daily. A self-organizing system is a system that becomes more organized as it goes toward equilibrium. Ross Ashby observed that every system whose internal processes or interaction rules do not change is a self- organizing system. Self Organizing Systems
For example, a disorganized group of people who are waiting... Waiting in Line
... to take a bus will fall into a line, because of their past experience that lines are a practical, fair way to obtain service. These people constitute a self- organizing system. The Line – A Self-Organizing System
Even a mixture of salad oil and vinegar is a self-organizing system. As a result of being shaken as shown here, the mixture changes to a homogeneous liquid – temporarily. Oil and Vinegar – a Self-Organizing System
As the salad dressing is allowed to go to equilibrium, the mixture changes its structure and the oil and vinegar separate automatically. We could say that the mixture organizes itself. Oil and Vinegar - Equilibrium
The idea of self-organization leads to a general design rule. In order to change any object, put the object in an environment where the interaction between the object and the environment changes the object in the direction you want it to go. Let's consider three examples... Self Organization Leads to a General Design Rule
First, in order to make iron from iron ore we put the iron ore in an environment called a blast furnace. In the furnace, coke is burned to produce heat. In the chemical and thermodynamic environment of the blast furnace, iron oxides become pure iron. Self Organization Leads to a General Design Rule
As a second example consider the process of educating a child. The child is placed in a school. Educating Children
As a result of interacting with teachers and other students in the school, the child learns to read and write. Educating Children, cont.
A third example is the regulation of business by government. To regulate their affairs the people of the United States adopted a Constitution that established three branches of government. By passing laws, Congress creates an environment of tax incentives and legal penalties which are enforced by the Executive Branch. Regulation of Business by Government
These incentives and penalties, which are adjudicated by the courts, encourage businessmen to modify their behavior in the desired direction. Regulation of Business by Government, cont.
Each case – the iron smelting furnace... Regulation of Business by Government, cont.
... the school with its teachers and students... Regulation of Business by Government, cont.
... and government regulation of business can be thought of as a self-organizing system. Each system organizes itself as it goes toward its stable equilibrial state. And in each case the known interaction rules of the system have been used to produce a desired result. Regulation of Business by Government, cont.
The recent work on cellular automata, fractal geometry, and complexity can be thought of as an extension of the work on self-organizing systems in the early 1960s.
So far we have talked mainly about how cybernetics can help us to build machines and to understand simple regulatory processes. But cybernetics also can be helpful in understanding how knowledge itself is generated. Cybernetics – how Knowledge itself is Generated
This understanding can provide us with a firmer foundation for regulating larger systems, such as business corporations, nations,... A Firmer Foundation for Regulating Larger Systems
... and even the whole world. Firmer Foundation for Regulating the Whole World
In the late 1960's cyberneticians such as Heinz Von Foerster of the United States,... Heinz Von Foerster
... Humberto Maturana of Chile,... Humberto Maturana
... Gordon Pask and,... Gordon Pask
... Stafford Beer of Great Britain... Stafford Beer
Second Order Cybernetics... began extending the application of cybernetics principles to understanding the role of the observer. This emphasis was called 'second-order cybernetics.' Second Order Cybernetics
Whereas, first-order cybernetics dealt with controlled systems, second-order cybernetics deals with autonomous systems. Dealing with Autonomous Systems
Role of the Observer
Applying cybernetic principles to social systems calls attention to the role of the observer of a system who,...
... while attempting to study and understand a social system, is not able to separate himself from the system or prevent himself from having an effect on it. Separating Man from the System
In the classical view, a scientist working in a laboratory takes great pains to prevent his own actions from affecting the outcome of an experiment. However, as we move from mechanical systems, such as those the scientist works with in the laboratory, to social systems, it becomes impossible to ignore the role of the observer. Separating Man from the System, cont.
For example, a scientist such as Margaret Mead who studied people and their cultures, could not help but have some effect on the people she studied. Margaret Mead
Because she lived within the societies she studied, the inhabitants would naturally, on occasion, want to impress her, please her, or perhaps anger her. Mead – Separating Man from the System
Mead's presence in a culture altered that culture and, in turn, affected what she observed. Mead – Separating Man from the System, cont.
This 'observer effect' made it impossible for Mead to know what the society was like when she wasn't there. Mead – Separating Man from the System, cont.
A conscientious news reporter will always be affected by his or her background and experience and hence will necessarily be subjective. Also, one reporter is unable to gather and comprehend all the information necessary to give a complete, accurate report on a complex event. News Reporters – Affected by Background and Experience
For these reasons, it is wise to have several different people study a complex event or system. Only by listening to descriptions of several observers can a person form an impression of how much a description of an event is a function of the observer and how much the description is a function of the event itself. Wise to Have Several People Study Complex Systems
Whereas, in the early days, cybernetics was generally applied to systems seeking goals defined for them, 'second-order' cybernetics refers to systems that define their own goals. Early Days – Cybernetics = Systems Seeking Pre-Defined Goals
It focuses attention on how purposes are constructed. An interesting example of a system that grows from having purposes set for it to one that defines its own purposes is a human being. When children are very young, parents set goals for them. For example, parents normally desire that their children learn to walk, talk, and use good table manners. Now – How Purposes are Constructed
However, as children grow older, they learn to set their own goals and pursue their own purposes, such as deciding on educational and career goals,... Pursuing Goals and Purposes
... making plans to marry... Pursuing Goals and Purposes, cont.
... and start a family. Pursing Goals and Purposes, cont.
To review what we have learned, cybernetics was first noted for the concept of feedback. Cybernetics – 1st Noted for Feedback
The human body is a rich source of examples of how feedback allows systems to regulate themselves, causing scientists to be interested in studying... Human Body – Rich Example of Feedback
... and simulating human and animal activities, from walking to thinking. Studying the Human Body – Walking, Thinking, etc.
Cybernetics studies self- organizing properties and has moved... Cybernetics – Studies Self-Organizing Properties
... from a concern primarily with machines... Cybernetics – Moved from Primary Concern with Machines
... to include large social systems. Cybernetics includes Large Social Systems
Although we shall never be able to return to the times of Leonardo Da Vinci and master all fields of existing knowledge, we can construct a set of principles that underlie the behavior of all systems. Da Vinci – Can we Master all Fields and Existing Knowledge?
Also, as cybernetics tells us, because the observer defines the systems he wants to control, complexity is observer-dependent. Complexity is Observer-Dependent
Complexity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Complexity is in the Eye of the Beholder