Cybernetics – Across the Grid

Cybernetics is a term that, broadly defined, encompasses nearly all human-system interaction. More narrowly, and with help of Hollywood, images of intelligent robots and computer-enhanced humans come to mind. But in the real world, and especially when it comes to dealing with issues of pervasive scale and self-reinforcing centers of power such as social networks, the study of human-computer interaction becomes more than one regarding simple inputs and outputs, but rather understanding and dealing with entirely new and almost indomitable systems that by the nature of their size pose a real threat to the average citizen whether that person actively engages with them or not. And in many cases, the citizen by virtue of the convenience and utility of the systems has no choice.


Myth of the 20th Century – Episode 158 –  Cybernetics – Across the Grid

— References —

– Leviathan, Hobbes (1651)
– Liar, Asimov (1941)
– Runaround, Asimov (1942)
– Cybernetics, Weiner (1948)
– I Robot, Asimov (1950)
– The Technological Society, Ellul (1954)
– Industrial Dynamics, Forrester (1961)
– 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick (1968)
– Urban Dynamics, Forrester (1969)
– Between Two Ages – America’s Role in the Technotronic Era, Brzezinski (1970)
– World Dynamics, Forrester (1971)
– Limits to Growth, Club of Rome (1971)
– OR in World War 2 – Operational Research against the U boat, Waddington (1973)
– Dark Star, Carpenter (1974)
– Fog of War, Morris (2003)
– Red Plenty, Spufford (2010)
– Soviet Cybernetics, Wild (2016)
– Anti Tech Revolution, Kaczynski (2016)
– Tech billionaires clash over the future of AI: Google founder Larry Page slams Elon Musk’s ‘speciesist’ concerns that killer robots will wipe out humanity, claiming the idea could ‘delay the digital utopia’, Pinkstone (2018) –
– Joe Rogan Experience #911 – Alex Jones (2018) –
– The Management Myth – Taylorism and the Origins of Scientific Management, Myth of the 20th Century (2019) –
– Joe Rogan Experience #1342 – John Carmack (2019) –
– Theory of the firm –


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Earl Shetland says:

    Thank you, gentlemen! This takes a lot of what I hoped to say about cybernetics and puts it at a higher level, and with deeper context.

    Nick, I would recommend the eight-part series I wrote for the American Sun if you want more details on the neurophysiological side, which of course is deeply intertwined with the attempts at social control.

    Here, I reckon you lads have made the fine points that a) the attempts at holism are themselves a form of reduction, and b) the current attempts at social control are just a way of playing “exile the kulak” instead of “brainwash the kulak”. I think that shift towards hamfisted hambeasts yelling at everyone helped a lot of people shake off the brainwashing, myself included.

    But my main takeaway is that if They ever come up with a cybernetic banana, we’re all fucked.


    1. Earl Shetland says:

      P.S. I am a bit disappointed that Allende’s adventures in cybernetics didn’t come up in the episode. Though I now wonder if Allende shot himself not because of Pinochet’s coup, but because Project Cybersyn hadn’t worked out after considerable expense.


    2. Adam Smith says:

      Cybernetic Bananas debating on stage during the primaries, 2024 – you saw it here first.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. James Bowery says:

    First order cybernetics is basically just machine learning, which Marcus Hutter formally solved circa 2000 by unifying Solomonoff induction with sequential decision theory in “A Theory of Universal Artificial Intelligence based on Algorithmic Complexity” ( ) aka “AIXI”. The only open parameters in AIXI are the choice of UTM and the choice of utility function (mapping states onto their corresponding values). Of course, this formula is not computable so by “formally” solved, I mean _if_ you can find tractable approximations, you can’t do better at programming a system to maximise value. The nice thing about such a formal solution is it makes the “cyberneticians” STFU or, at least, say something that could be wrong.

    Now, having said that, I did get to “study” under Heinz von Foerster (in his “Biological Computer Laboratory”) just after he edited “Cybernetics of Cybernetics” (aka “second order cybernetics” which included Margaret Mead’s meanderings). This project seemed to be less about formalizing “the radical social construction of reality” and more about getting techno-INCELS laid shortly after the peak of the boomer female demographic pulse became coeds all starry-eyed about Margaret Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa” (and newly-available birth control pills). It didn’t work very well at least around the University of Illinois Urbana campus which was nearly 3 to 1 M:F. I was spared the worst of the psychological damage having spent some time at the University of Northern Iowa (teacher’s college with 1:2 M:F) and Uof IA (1:1 M:F), so I could see what was going on with the “human ecology” leaving minced testicles of budding engineers rotting on the ground on which budding “feminists” fed. (Sociopathic engineers did manage fairly well and went on to be highly successful in Fortune 1000 firms, I’m sure.)

    But, even though Hamming told me he thought von Foerster was, in his exact words, “A first class KOOK”, Heinz did, when pressed on questions, actually present sufficient rigor and humility to find joy in discovering he couldn’t find the answer. He just didn’t have what it took to realize the equivalent of AIXI in first order, let alone second order cybernetics (neither did Hamming) and everyone was going insane in the transition from the Summer of Love to Saturday Night Fever.

    Hutter doesn’t have what it takes to formally solve “second order cybernetics” either — but he, like Heinz, is at least rigorous enough to recognize his failure with some joy as evidenced by his paper published a decade after the AIXI paper: “A Complete Theory of Everything (will be subjective)” ( )

    At present, my bets are on Christopher Langan’s Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adam Smith says:

      Appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ stories. What bigger trip of a field than one that attempts to replicate and surpass the capacities of what truly makes us all human.


  3. Lucien says:

    Apparently I’m a boomer and didn’t realise I could just comment here.

    I’m a greek speaker and I’m listening to your latest episode regarding cybernetics.
    Regarding the etymology of the term, it does indeed stem from an archaic word that describes the pilot or rubber of a ship.
    However, the word has made its way into the Latin languages and by extension English.
    Cybernetic has made its way into English as the word “gubernatorial”.
    It stems from the Greek word “κυβέρνηση” (Ki-ve-rni-si) which made its way into English as the word “government”.
    In conclusion, the term translates to “things conserning governance”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adam Smith says:

      Wonderful. Thank you.


  4. kakatoa says:

    I wonder if Elon has worked out an algorithm on how to optimize charging rates during Public Safety Power Shut Offs (PSPS) when a microgrid is operating via truck sized diesel generators.

    The micro grid distribution line feeds 1) 2 service station 2) 2 grocery stores 3) City Jail 4) city hall 5) south side of towns commercial district and roughly 1000 residents 6) 12 Tesla fast chargers 7) city potable water pumping station 8) sewer pump lift stations.


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