I have recently been reading an excellent book by Andrew Pickering entitled ‘the cybernetic brain’. The first half of the book gives an incredibly rich and fascinating history of early British cybernetics and although I have not yet finished the book I am really enjoying the stories behind early cybernetic thinkers and the extraordinary range of backgrounds from which they come from. From the history in the book and by recognising the common themes between the approaches to different fields I have come to understand cybernetics takes a ‘steering’ approach to achieve its goals; presumed knowledge takes a backseat while understanding and reacting to a unpredictable and complex changing environment moves to the front.

I have started to think back to some of the work I have done previously and how I might have approached it. In University a big interest of mine was network security and I had spent plenty of time on assignments using products such as Snort and writing code to detect predetermined malicious patterns in network packets. These tools would detect malicious activity based on rule sets. The tool would spot something defined within the rules and report it back to the user.

The methods I used required the system to have an indefinite amount of knowledge to constitute as intelligence. To create the rules we must already have an understanding of what is going to happen within our environment, which we do not and will not have. Would an approach derived from shared agreement on what network activity is eventually teach itself to be secure? How would we move from a rule-based system to a self steering one.

I think I am starting to understand why the early cybernetic thinker came from such a wide array of areas…. and also why they were all mad!


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