Cybernetics has much in common with the parallel study of General Systems Theory, founded by Ludwig von Bertalanffy in 1940.
It is concerned with the way systems work, the way they govern themselves, the way they process information (often through a process known as "feedback") in order to govern themselves, and the way they can best be designed.
In sf Terminology this is a word so often misused that its real meaning is in danger of being devalued or forgotten.
The term "cybernetics", derived from a Greek word meaning helmsman or controller, was coined by the distinguished mathematician Norbert Wiener in 1947 to describe a new science on which he and others had been working since 1942.
Much of the book's terminology is borrowed from Wiener's nonfiction God & Golem, Inc. Interestingly, the question "In what respect can a machine be said to have free will?
" engenders a parallel question about humans themselves, at least for readers and writers who take the materialist view that the human mind is itself no more than a complex cybernetics system; this "anti-vitalist" view of humanity is common among cybernetics writers.If we use the broad, scientifically accepted definition of "cybernetics", it cannot be delimited as a separate theme in this encyclopedia.Most of the stories discussed under the entries Androids, Automation, Communication, Computers, Cyborgs, Intelligence and Robots will, by definition, be cybernetics stories also.This usage is taken from an area of cybernetics not necessarily related to AI: a person with a wooden leg is a kind of very simple cyborg, because the melding of mechanical and human parts necessitates, whether consciously or not, the use of feedback devices (i.e., it is cybernetic).The study of cybernetics is, at bottom, the study of just such devices, whether they be servo-mechanisms or the messages that travel between eye and hand when we pick up a book from a table.The first step towards AI in real life is the computer, which is why all computer stories are cybernetics stories also.Cybernetics also enters sf in the form of the word "cyborg", a contraction of "cybernetic organism".For example, Kurt Vonnegut Jr's Player Piano (1952) has at its heart an image of humans incorporated in and subject to an impersonal, machine-like system (see Automation); they effectively become components or "bits" in a cybernetic system.However, in sf the term "cybernetics" is most often used to mean something narrower – generally the creation of artificial intelligence, or AI.The word first passed into general usage with the publication of his Cybernetics (1948; rev 1961), subtitled "Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine".Cybernetics was cross-disciplinary from the beginning; it developed when Wiener and others noticed that certain parallel problems persistently arose in scientific disciplines normally regarded as separate: statistical mechanics, Information Theory, electrical engineering and neurophysiology were four of the most important.