The prefix “cyber” means “computer,” “computer network,” or “virtual reality.” It is used in compound words like “cyberart,” “cyberspace,” and “cybernetics.” The original Greek root kybernetes, however, literally means “steersman.” How do the senses of “steering” and “computers” intersect? The man who coined the term “cybernetics” may provide an answer.
While use of the prefix boomed with the widespread use of the Internet in the 1990s, its English origin dates back to 1948, when U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener came up with “cybernetics,” the study of human control functions and of mechanical and electronic systems designed to replace them. Weiner applied statistical mechanics to engineering, paving the way for computer programming. In cybernetics, human knowledge creates and guides electronic systems, metaphorically steering them.
I knew every chip in Bobby’s simulator by heart; it looked like your workaday Ono-Sendai VII, the “Cyberspace Seven,” but I’d rebuilt it so many times that you’d have had a hard time finding a square millimeter of factory circuitry in all that silicon.
Gibson used the term again in his 1984 novel “Neuromancer,” in a passage that many believe captures the sense of wonder that permeated the introduction of the World Wide Web to mainstream culture. Here’s an excerpt:
Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.
Can you relate to the technological experience Gibson describes? Share your thoughts, below.
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