First Order Cybernetics

See Second Order Cybernetics
See Third Order Cybernetics
See Fourth Order Cybernetics

First Order Cybernetics emphasized Negative Feedback

  • The First Order cybernetic approach emphasises the importance of negative feedback (external link).
  • See the Wikipedia entry for First order cybernetics (external link) for a more detailed and thorough explanation.
  • A classic example of a first order system is the 'Watt Steam Governor' (see below)

The Centrifugal Govenor (external link) exploits the principle of negative feedback (external link)

Slightly Smart Systems

  • Another example of first order cybernetics is a thermostatic control system.
  • Thermosts are designed to sense, and to maintain a pre-set temperature in a given space.
  • This uses the First Order cybernetic principle of negative feedback (external link).
  • Negative feedback simply means that errors trigger an opposite (i.e. compensatory) response.

  • In this case, if the thermostatic sensor becomes hotter than its target temperature this is detected.
  • When this happens it applies negative feedback (external link) to switch off the heater.
  • Similarly, when the sensor notices that it is colder than the target temperature, it switches the heater on.

Limitations of First Order Cybernetics

  • First Order Cybernetics describes aspects of defined systems, rather than the whole (i.e. the actual) situation.
  • Here, defined means that it uses descriptions that focus on the local state of a system.
  • Traditionally, this is designed to take place in isolation from its whole situation or environment.
  • It follows that, by defining (i.e. depicting or modelling) a system, the designer contributes to its behaviour.
  • Complex situations were often visualized as 'black box' systems whose internal mysteries were overlooked
  • A 'black box' system was portrayed as a closed system with some inputs and some outputs.
  • This was seen as a practical way to deal with a shortage of information.
  • Whilst this process was often useful at the level of engineering it overlooked the role of the observer.
  • Here, the observer may be designer, or user of the system - or even another, adjacent thermostatic system.
  • It also tended to overlook the presence of positive feedback (external link).

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