Speak cyber, you punk!

SOME coined terms fill such a need that they spread far beyond their original compass. One such, about which Rose Whitehead has inquired, is cyber-. These days the term mainly implies electronic interconnectivity and information storage as in cyberspace, the vast uncontrolled system that is the Internet itself.
    Earlier versions, such as cyberpunk, related to a breakdown in human control systems, and the variant cyborg meant something that was half-human, half-machine. But in its modern incarnation cyber- stood squarely for control in the benevolent sense, when the word cybernetics was coined by Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Norbert Wiener. He took the word from the Greek kubernetes, or "steersman", from kubernan, "to govern".
    Wiener used it to refer to control systems in living organisms and machines, but it soon took on other meanings. For instance it took its place among other psycho-babble in the early 1970s as psycho-cybernetics, the "science" of controlling the unconscious by repeating mantras such as "Every day in every way I am getting better and better".
    Wiener, who died in 1964 when the Internet was in its infancy, once said: "The idea that information can be stored in a changing world without an overwhelming depreciation of its value is false." If only he'd lived to see his words come true...


A reader has left a message saying cybernetics was used near the beginning of the century by a French priest.


Dashing through Sydney airport I noticed the book Psycho-Cybernetics still on sale after all these years.

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