Recently, I've been looking into the life of the brilliant Norbert Wiener and the field he spawned, cybernetics. Before reading into it, I thought "cybernetics" was a pseudo-science-new-wave-steam-punk-post-human-cyborg-thing, so I was surprised to discover it's really just a generalization of control theory from industrial engineering to both animal and digital systems.

Wanting to find out more about the subject, I started looking for resources but found almost nothing dated in the last 20 years.

What's happened to this field? Was it simply too broad and the community fragmented and specialized? Did it die with the original creators–– there are no people left with the wide breadth of interdisciplinary knowledge left to maintain it? Or did the term just suffer a semantic creep that led researchers away?

Appreciate any insights.

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    $\begingroup$ Elon Musk's company Neuralink - An integrated brain-machine interface platform with thousands of channels is currently active in this area. The Nature article - Return of Cybernetics outlines the return of inter-disciplinary interest into neural interfaces. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ Wikipedia treats "cybernetics" as a very expansive umbrella term which may have reflected the original ambitions of the founders, but did not make it as a unified field with such scope. What happened to the viable parts of it is that they specialized into modern computer science/AI and information theory, while the control aspects mostly remained under their original headings in mathematics and engineering. Cybernetics as a distinctive field is now mostly obsolete, but some legacy journals remain, e.g. Cybernetics and Systems. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ The term "Cybernetics" is rarely used nowadays; it just dissolved in the neighboring areas of science (like control theory, signal processing etc.) But it was never called a pseudo-science by anyone who understands what it is, except in Soviet Union. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe useful DA Novikov, Cybernetics: From Past to Future (Springer, 2016) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ I can't give you the answer until you jack into the 'net $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


Perhaps Cybernetics lost some of its charm because Claude Shannon created Communications Theory 1 in 1948, which put the hazy concept of "communications" in firm, mathematical terms, which caused it to suddenly be a well-defined discipline. Since Communications was half of Cybernetics, the latter must have suffered as a result.

Although not directly related to your question, it is interesting to note that "General Semantics" 2 by Alfred Korzybski seems to have followed a similar loss of popularity.


In short, it became too radical for the west and the CIA backed post modernist thinkers came to have the final word on systems thinking, replacing the field and all it's language with a new language of terms like Assemblage and Wicked Problems which imply that systems are too complex for us to bother trying to understand in the first place.

The soviets won the scientific war by being open to and advancing Cybernetics along side their UK / US counterparts. As Cybernetic thought progressed, and its leading figures started building prototype internets in the early 70s, it increasingly became critical of western democracy, arguing that it was not democratic at all (see Stafford Beer's cybernetics and the will of the people talk on youtube). As the development of cybernetic analysis became inherently anti-capitalist, and seen as complimentary to, rather than opposing Soviet Dialectical Materialism (there are US military science papers on this that are very interesting), the whole field had to be ejected from academic dominance. There was a loss of funding, heavy promotion of anti-marxist post modern thinkers and notions such as post-structuralism came to be more appealing to young academics and researchers who found cybernetics to be too mathematical, or simply too difficult to grasp. So we probably see a generation of poor teachers and poor students and then we are left with a 30 year gap in the development of systems theory that we are only just beginning to fill.

For CIA influence on late 20th century philosophy see Gabriel Rockhills work.


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