Cybernetics: Theory and Applications

Trappl, Robert

Every once in a while, cybernetics makes the press. With mixed feelings of admiration and suspicion, amusement and fear, we learn about world models of the Club of Rome and about robots that apparently run whole factories, and frequently we are reassured that the human brain is still a bit smarter than cold computers. Everybody seems to have heard about cybernetics, but who really knows what it is? Robert Trappl is an expert in the field and appreciates the difficulty of defining cybernetics. In the preface to his book, he tells the reader that there are more than 100 definitions, and one sentence later their number has grown again: “Cybernetics is the science, craft, and art of communication, computation, and control in the machine, the living being, and the organization.” Some pondering about the constituents of this definition suggests that cybernetics includes an awful lot. In fact, it appears that most every study can be formulated as a cybernetical analysis. With this preconception of vagueness and generality in mind, the reader hopes that a book with a comprehensive title like Cybernetics: Theory and Applications would enlighten him as to what cybernetics is. Knowing about the complexity of cybernetics, Trappl has asked 19 experts to contribute to his book, which is “intended to be both an introduction to the field of cybernetics and a reference.” Besides “Introduction” and “Future,” five chapters are devoted to different theories and basic concepts, ten to applications in biology, psychology and education, social sciences, health care, management and organization, engineering, linguistics, artificial intelligence, cooperative computation and society, and to global planning. Most chapters are well written, interesting, and informative, and provide reference for further reading; altogether there are about 750 references; 9 since 1980 and 450 from the 1970s.

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