Cybernetic Society and Its Reflections in Science Fiction


Norbert Wiener, author of “Cybernetics,” a 1948 book in which he develops a theory of communication and control.

Jason Stackhouse writes on Engineerjobs:

Our own attempts to design centrally planned economies yielded only brittle, crushingly totalitarian states, Stalinist nightmares of fiat rule, corruption, and dehumanization. Yet the dream persists: a planned, smoothly-functioning world, responding rationally to evolving conditions, shepherding resources for the benefit of humanity.

Can engineers do better? As it turns out, we can – and almost did, 40 years ago.

The Foundation and the Culture

Many science fiction fans advance Star Trek as an example of such a planned, internally harmonious society. While Trek is many things, it’s not the best example of a cashless utopia – money, graft, and greed rear their heads the moment our crew leaves the ship.
Star Trek Utopia

Star Trek’s crew was not quite a Cybernetic Society.

Better representations can be found in the works of Isaac Asimov and Iain Banks. In Asimov’s Foundation and Robot stories, we see rational, thoughtful rule through the application of advanced mathematical models and carefully engineered management.

The Robot stories – by which I mean the nine tales comprising I, Robot and the two novels, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn – portray the evolution of robots and AI mainframes into the guiding instruments of human society. Particularly, in the final tale of the I, Robot collection (“The Evitable Conflict”), we see Asimov’s AI management platforms quietly transition into leadership roles through generalization of his First Law of Robotics – the AI have concluded that not taking control of human society, alleviating suffering and corruption, would be tantamount to allowing humanity to come to harm by inaction.

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James Curcio

I was raped by a family of polar bears as a child and now have a deep seated terror of peanut butter. Psychological transference is weird. Author, artist, freak.

2 Comments on "Cybernetic Society and Its Reflections in Science Fiction"

  1. The Well Dressed Man | Jul 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm |

    Fascinating. Description of cybernetics applied to Chile’s economy reminded me of Google’s systemic growth. They’re becoming more and more of a postmodern nation-state as they expand into the “internet of things.” Some days I feel like saying “I for one welcome our robot overlords,” but then I see how their army of painfully square workers is sucking the last gasp of character from San Francisco. Coming to a city near you!

  2. Hadrian999 | Jul 27, 2013 at 3:51 pm |

    once we lose the need to struggle agains’t adversity we lose everything special about humanity and become livestock. If utopia is ever reached it will be the death of humanity

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