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Written by: ANU School of Cybernetics
11 Oct 2020



What is cybernetics?#

Cybernetics is the study of dynamic, complex systems that comprise people, technology, and environments. It is the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things.

The term ‘’cybernetics’’ was coined in 1948 by American mathematician Norbert Wiener from the Greek, kybernetes, meaning to steer, or pilot. The field’s influence has left us with the prefix ‘cyber’ but it spans vast fields beyond technology, including social dynamics, climate studies and creative projects.

It rose to prominence in a time when computers were novel but rapidly advancing and it tapped into widespread concern about the consequences of the coming age of digitisation. As a field, it fused math, engineering, and philosophy with biology, psychology, anthropology, and many others. Over the last 75 years, it has helped shape everything from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to critical systems theory, computer-driven art and music, design thinking, and even the internet.

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.

Why cybernetics?#

The School of Cybernetics at the Australian National University was established in 2021 to help safely, sustainably, and responsibly design, build, manage, regulate, and decommission systems with computation at their core.

Cybernetics offers a language and a set of methods for situating technologies within dynamic, changing contexts that also include humans and environments, anticipating and course correcting for unexpected consequences. Cybernetics offers a multi-disciplinary field that integrates insights from broad disciplines including computer science, systems theory, psychology, anthropology, the law and more.

Cybernetics provides a set of principals that 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 necessary to centre our thinking about what we build in the 21st Century.

Read about why we need a cybernetic future. Visit our blog.

Our cybernetics#

For us, cybernetics is not just the study of systems. We are developing tools and methodologies to transform those systems for the better – to make them safe, sustainable, and responsible. Sometimes this means steering them better, sometimes this means radically altering them, and sometimes this means decommissioning them altogether.

Cybernetics is an approach to emerging technological capability that prioritises the relationships between people, technologies, and environments. It enables understanding of the components, connections, and dynamics to shape and steer systems.

Our cybernetics offers a way of seeing the world within a framework and set of methods for better decision-making that informs a commitment to developing safe, sustainable, and responsible approaches to new systems.

Because it acknowledges how systems interact and shape one another, the practice helps to mitigate risks and prevents the unintended consequences of emerging technologies on people and the environment.

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 new technologies.

Our cybernetics is an important tool for navigating major societal transformations through capability building, policy development, and creating new approaches to new systems. In our work, we focus on the past, present, and future of systems with computing at their core. We are interested in what we can learn from now defunct systems, as well as those that have yet to be built.


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.

We have used this co-creation approach to find new ways to engage with everything from Generative AI to drone-human interaction to data-driven policymaking, metaverse development and the future of leadership.

Organisations that have contributed over $10,000 to the School since January 2021, when the School was established, are noted below.

Examples of our collaborative partner work are below.

Read more


We have published a report in partnership with National Library of Australia exploring how artificial intelligence will transform libraries. With the Menzies Foundation we established a set of cybernetic principles for leadership. As a founding partner in the ANU Institute of Water Futures, alongside CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, we are researching uses of advanced technology in water governance and sustainability. For Meta we have used a cybernetic approach to better inform metaverse design.

Dive further into our thinking on cybernetics and its potential by reading some of our publications, submissions and research projects.

More about us#

Contact us#

The School of Cybernetics is located in the College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. Send us an email or give us a call on +61 2 6125 8121.

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  1. 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. 

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