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Paul Pangaro: What is Cybernetics?

Paul Pangaro is an Entrepreneur and a Professor of Practice in the human-computer interaction institute, Carnegie Mellon University. His research interests are centered around Cybernetics and Communication. In this video, he answers some questions about Cybernetics.

What is Cybernetics?

Paul Pangaro starts his explanation with the etymological definition of the word. He explains that its origin comes from old Greek “Kubernan” (to steer).

He then expands his explanation with a metaphor of a ship in the middle of the ocean. The dynamicity of water and waves continuously diverts it from its direction, but because it has a goal, it will repeatedly steer and correct itself.

The lesson that can be deduced from this is that all intelligent systems have this property of ‘acting‘, ‘seeing‘, ‘sensing‘, ‘comparing‘ and ‘correcting themselves‘ to get to their goal.

And this means that any system lacking this fundamental ability will not be intelligent.


How people correct their direction when they walk and realize they are going in the wrong direction. Or how in a conversation we cooperate to understand each other, and in case we fail, we correct ourselves.

To this, he adds that Cybernetics is the most powerful framework to explain systems that have goals:

“…That’s the purpose of cybernetics, and all of the kinds of systems, technological and social and biological have goals, so it’s a perfect marriage.”

How does cybernetics influence his perception of the world?

He believes that cybernetics is a great way to understand how the world functions.

The type of world he refers to is the one humans inhabit. It is in part mechanical, physical, and biological and each one of them has to work, otherwise, we will not be able to survive in it.

One of the particularities of Cybernetics as a framework is the ability it gives us to model how systems breakdown, and what we should do to improve them:

“Cybernetics allows us to model the breakdown and to know how to improve things. So I find it an incredibly powerful language, a frame for looking at the world.”

He also explains that once the Cybernetics lenses are worn, the whole world becomes cybernetic because it is constituted with intelligent systems that have the same properties of ‘acting‘, ‘sensing‘ ‘comparing‘, ‘understanding‘ and ‘taking a meta-view‘, etc. With this in mind, intelligence is defined as knowing what to do to achieve the best results possible.

What Cybernetic systems are occurring at this moment?

Paul Pangaro provides some examples of cybernetic systems that are occurring at this moment:

He thinks that some of them are automatically maintained, such as how our body temperature is adjusting itself or how our body keeps the balance, preventing us from falling on the ground,

And others, we have control over them such as how the conversation is maintained through time via the complex interaction between different elements like ‘language‘, ‘comprehension‘, ‘imagination‘, ‘beliefs‘, ‘actions‘, etc.

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