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Daniel W. Hillis on Cybernetics - Dictionary of Arguments

Brockman I 179
Cybernetics/Hillis: The goal of cybernetics was to create a tiny model of the system using “weak currents”
to amplify and control “strong currents” of the real world. The central insight was that a control problem could be solved by building an analogous system in the information space of messages and then amplifying solutions into the larger world of reality. Inherent in the motion of a control system is the concept of amplification, which makes the small big and the weak strong. Amplification allows the difference that makes a difference to make a difference. In this way of looking at the world, a control system needed to be as complex as the system it controlled. Cyberneticist W. Ross Ashby proved that this was true in a precise mathematical sense, in what is now called Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, or some
times the First Law of Cybernetics. >Cybernetics/Ashby.
Brockman I 180
Cybernetics/Hillis: The analogy of structure between the controller and the controlled was central to the cybernetic perspective. Just as digital coding collapses the space of possible messages into a simplified version that represents only the difference that makes a difference, so the control system collapses the state space of a controlled system into a simplified model that reflects only the goals of the controller.
Ashby’s Law (>Cybernetics/Ashby) does not imply that every controller must model every state of the system but only those states that matter for advancing the controller’s goals. Thus, in cybernetics, the goal of the controller becomes the perspective from which the world is viewed.



Hillis, D. W. “The First Machine Intelligences” in: Brockman, John (ed.) 2019. Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI. New York: Penguin Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Hillis, Daniel W.
Brockman I
John Brockman
Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI New York 2019


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