Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems – their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” In the 21st century, the term is often used in a rather loose way to imply “control of any system using technology.”
Cybernetics is applicable when a system being analyzed incorporates a closed signaling loop – originally referred to as a “circular causal” relationship – that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in the system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change. Cybernetics is relevant to, for example, mechanical, physical, biological, cognitive, and social systems. The essential goal of the broad field of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action. Its focus is how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes or can be changed to better accomplish the first two tasks. Cybernetics includes the study of feedback, black boxes and derived concepts such as communication and control in living organisms, machines, and organizations including self-organization.
Concepts studied by cyberneticists include, but are not limited to learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, convergence, communication, efficiency, efficacy, and connectivity. In cybernetics, these concepts (otherwise already objects of study in other disciplines such as biology and engineering) are abstracted from the context of the specific organism or device.