Cybernetics vs Artificial Intelligence

Jan Krikke
3 min readJan 21, 2024

Plan, Quantify, Steer

Artificial Intelligence and its impact on the future has been making all the headlines in recent years, and rightly so, but few people realize that AI is built on a Cybernetic platform. AI is a “derivative” of Cybernetics. The latter is not only a computer science, it is a way of looking at the world.

Cybernetics was developed in the US during WWII and has been used for over 70 years. The textbook example of a cybernetic system is the autopilot used in airliners. Autopilots in airliners handle the routine tasks of making constant corrections to maintain speed, course, and altitude.

Unlike AI, Cybernetics is neutral. While AI has a cultural dimension, (Chinese and American AI systems are not the same), Cybernetics is oblivious to culture, nationality, ethnicity, or ideology. It performs a given task without fear of favor. All it requires is consensus about its purpose, target, or destination.

Imagine 300 passengers boarding an airliner in London for a flight to Singapore. The passengers are the typical mix of tourists and business travelers who will speak a dozen different languages, they have different ethnic backgrounds and they have different political and religious persuasions.

Despite their differences, all 300 passengers have one thing in common: they all want to go to Singapore. They don’t mind sitting next to a Marxist or a vegetarian. They just want to get to Singapore safe and sound, and ideally on schedule.

The cockpit of the typically long-haul jet has a crew of three: the captain, the co-pilot, and the navigator. The crew submits the flight plan to traffic control and the navigators programs to autopilot to take the designated route to its destination.

During the flight, the autopilot constantly checks the actual position against the flight plan to ensure that the aircraft stays within the flight plan’s parameters. If the airliner encounters strong side winds, the autopilot activates the ailerons to initiate a course correction; if it encounters strong headwinds and gets behind schedule, it may rev up the engines.

Plan, Quantify, Steer

The term cybernetics, coined by American computer pioneer Norbert Wiener, stems from the Greek kybernētēs, meaning steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder. It is also the root of the word governor and government. James Watt used the word governor for the mechanism that controlled the admission of steam into the cylinders of steam engines.

The Cybernetic method is a three-step process: Plan, Quantify, and Steer. Plan defines the goal, target, or destination, Quantify defines the required resources, and Steer makes sure that the dynamic system stays within the parameters set out by the Plan using a feedback system.

Any system that is controlled or “governed” can be seen as a cybernetic system — a factory, an organization, a city, and even a country. Communist countries used the method for their 5-, 10, or even 20-year central planning, which is a form of cybernetic planning.

A notable example: China’s latest 10-year plan called for “a society in which no one is poor and everyone receives an education, has paid employment, more than enough food and clothing, access to medical services, old-age support, a home, and a comfortable life.”

When climate, water resources, food production, population size, and other essential parameters are taken into account, the Cybernetic method can be applied on a global scale. All that is required is a global consensus on the destination.



Jan Krikke

Author of Creating a Planetary Culture: European Science, Chinese art, and Indian Transcendence