What is cybernetics?#
Cybernetics is the science of control and communication in complex systems such as computers, the human body, ecological systems, information systems, government and human cultures.
During the 20th Century, cybernetics emerged out of a set of conversations among engineers, computer scientists, anthropologists, biologists, psychologists and others. It was a way of thinking about how to build autonomous machines and ‘intelligent’ computing systems. It looked to processes in nature, and social systems, to inspire the design of autonomous processes in machines and computing systems, and through this generated ways of understanding how complex systems steer towards a goal, through interacting parts of a system that can sense, act, and respond to one another.
Cybernetics continues to offer inspiration to think about the technologies we build, deploy, and decommission as a component of larger systems that include human systems and ecological systems. It is a way of imagining a future where technology is always considered in supportive relationship to humans and the environment, and provides a toolkit to get us there.
Dive further into our thinking on cybernetics and its potential by reading some of our publications.
New water governance research sheds light on the need for cybernetic approaches as basins become AI-enabled
Water management and governance is undergoing rapid transformation as cyber-physical systems are deployed across the water sector.
AI and libraries series: the not-so distant future of AI personas
Digitized memories and digitized artefacts now form the technological basis for bringing history to life.
AI and libraries series: the age of artificially intelligent search
Libraries themselves are well-positioned to conceive, implement, and use new systems for the production of knowledge.
AI and libraries series: the view from 1950’s Hollywood
From microfilm and electric checkout to pneumatic tube systems and computerized catalogues, libraries have long been sites of innovation for new tech.
Engineering in the 21st Century imagines the possibilities of advanced digital and data-driven technology systems that can sense and act within the world. At the same time, we are increasingly attuned to the impact these systems are having, how they have enabled both great achievements and regrettable ones.
Engineers and engineering offer us a way to navigate the future of these technology systems. But to do this successfully, we need to integrate insights from disciplines including computer science, systems theory, psychology, anthropology, the law and more. And we must use these insights in a practical decision-making framework that will assist us to design, build, scale, manage regulate and decommission systems super-charged by AI and the Internet of Things.
We believe cybernetics is the set of ideas and tools to bring together multiple perspectives, skills and ways of thinking to shape how we design, develop, adopt and regulate autonomous systems. Cybernetics is an approach to technology that starts with the relationships between the technical, the ecological and the human — relationships that are necessary to centre in our thinking about what we build in the 21st Century. And, because it acknowledges how systems interact, and shape one another, it is also a practice that helps to mitigate risks and prevents the unintended consequences of emerging technologies on people and the environment.
Read about why we need a cybernetic future.
Re/telling stories of the Overland Telegraph Line
Ann Moyal Memorial Lecture delivered by Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell 8 May, National Library of Australia
What is cybernetics? A crash course in cybernetics and why it matters
Cybernetics is helping to create a safe and sustainable future in our digital world. But what exactly is it?
After the pandemic: Cybernetic systems and an approach to the future
Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell’s 2021 Garran Oration
The New Cybernetics: Systems Thinking for the 21st Century
Our director Genevieve Bell spoke with the Coller Venture Review about the new cybernetics.
ANU School of Cybernetics is committed to working with organisations where difficult decisions are made every day on designing, deploying and decommissioning technology: in workplaces, in governments, in industries and in academia.
Organisations that have contributed over $10,000 to the School since January 2021, when the School was established, are noted below. This page will be updated as further contributions exceeding $10,000 are received.
- Microsoft Australia
- KPMG Australia
- National Library of Australia
- Menzies Foundation
- Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI)
- Department of Defence (support for Master of Applied Cybernetics)
- Commonwealth Bank of Australia1 (support for Master of Applied Cybernetics)
- Paul Ramsay Foundation
- Defence Science & Technology Group (grant)
- Meta Australia
More about us#
Our beginnings: the 3A Institute
The 3A Institute had a mission to create a new generation of practitioners with the skills and knowledge we need to safely, sustainably and responsibly take AI-powered cyber-physcial systems to scale, and this work continues to informs the School of Cybernetics.
Meet our Director Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell
Genevieve Bell is a cultural anthropologist, technologist and futurist best known for her work at the intersection of cultural practice and technology development.
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The School of Cybernetics is located in the College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.
Mailing Address: Level 3 Birch Building, 35 Science Road, Canberra, ACT 2601
Phone: +61 2 6125 8121
Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell is a non-executive director on the board of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (2019-present). Professor Bell has no role in negotiating the commercial arrangements between CBA and ANU, and does not personally benefit from this arrangement. ↩