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  • The History and Development of Cybernetics

    The History and

    Development of


    Catherine Becker and Marcella Slakosky


    Charles Chen (XXC)

  • Presented by The George Washington University in Cooperation with

    The American Society for Cybernetics

    The History and

    Development of


  • History of Cybernetics

    Many years ago . . .

  • The things a person had to understand to get through life were relatively


    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

  • . . . weapons engineering, and . . .

    Da Vinci, cont. Weapons Engineering

  • . . . 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 1964. He became known

    as the Father of Cybernetics.

    1948Norbert Wiener

    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.


  • 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 700


    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

  • 210

    . . . before a temperature

    sensor in the thermostat

    triggers the furnace to turn off.

    Thermostat Feedback Example, cont.

  • 210


    The furnace will remain off until

    the temperature of the room has

    fallen to 66 degrees . . .

    Thermostat Feedback Example, cont.

  • 210


    . . . then the sensor in

    the thermostat triggers

    the furnace to turn on


    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


    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

  • 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.

    1940 Ross Ashby homeostat

    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.



  • 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


    Grey Walter

    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