Term: Cybernetics

Description: Cybernetics is the theoretical study of communication and control processes in biological, mechanical, and electronic systems, especially the comparison of these processes in biological and artificial systems (1). Cybernetics relates closely with the theory of automatic control and also with physiology, particularly the physiology of the nervous system. For instance, a “controller” might be the human brain, which might receive signals from a “monitor” (the eyes) regarding the distance between a reaching hand and an object to be picked up. The information sent by the monitor to the controller is called feedback, and on the basis of this feedback the controller might issue instructions to bring the observed behavior (the reach of the hand) closer to the desired behavior (the picking up of the object).

One common confusion in regards to "what is cybernetics?" is the mistake that Cybernetics is somehow related to AI or Artificial Intelligence. However, the two in their own right are completely separate fields entirely. Artificial Intelligence is the primarily concerned with giving intelligence (or some form of it) to man made machines. Cybernetics didn't become associated with computers however until some time after the birth of the internet. As stated in the definition, Cybernetics is a much broader field spanning into both the biological and mechanical.

Cybernetics differs from Artificial Intelligence in that AI is concerned mostly with implementation whereas Cybernetics is concerned primarily with the description of how the process would be done. In other words, Artificial intelligence is the practice of giving machines reasoning ability where Cybernetics is the practice of control, be it machines, organs, etc.

Applications: Cybernetics over the past has been used in a multitude of different fields. From control of a ship, to new ways to control animals and use them to human benefit, the main theme in it's application has always been "How do I control this thing and get it to do what I want it to do to help me?" While it can and has been used in multiple applications however what it's most known for today is the use of artificial limbs. It is also used in many conceptual ideas involving the connection between the human brain and body with that of machine. If we could bridge the gap between the human mind and that of a machine, we could greatly help amputee's in regaining the use of lost limbs.

Web Resources:

Related Terminology:
Artificial Intelligence
Model Based Reasoning

1. Dictionary.com