Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.

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What is cybernetics?

posted on
October 9th, 2010
Just Jay

Upon graduation from college with a degree in sociology, I became a mainframe computer salesman for NCR. This was so patently ludicrous that I was panicked into reading computer magazines and computer books into the wee hours every morning. I feared that I would be found out, exposed as a non-technical guy putting on as a senior systems analyst.

One book that made no sense at all to me was The Human Use of Human Beings, Cybernetics and Society, by Norbert Wiener.  Some say “Wiener’s has impacted the fields of computers and technology, engineering, biology, sociology, and a broad range of other sciences.”

As I said, I didn’t get it. So when I found myself lunching with cyberneticist Paul Pangaro in San Paolo last month, I pointed my pocket video in his direction and asked him, “What the hell is cybernetics and why should I care?”

Here’s what he told me:

It’s about feedback.


  • Paul Simbeck-Hampson - October 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm -

    Great Interview, love the analogies and although I need to re-watch the interviews and dig deeper into Paul’s papers, I at least have a basic understand. The implications for conversation design and organisational design are particularly interesting… might have to get in touch with Paul re: my new project, Mmm….

  • Simon Reed | Training - October 18, 2010 at 11:37 pm -

    Norbert Wiener was a child prodigy and Professor of Mathematics at MIT from 1919 until his death in 1964. He invented the science of cybernetics (look it up in the dictionary) and the guided missile but refused to help the military during the cold war. This volume includes an open letter published in the January, 1947 Atlantic Monthly magazine entitled “A Scientist Rebels” by Norbert Wiener. An introduction by Wiener biographer Steve J. Heims provides a context for Wiener’s works.

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