Cybernetic Futures

Ben Swift

06 Sep '22

we acknowledge and celebrate Australia's First Peoples on whose traditional lands we meet, and pay our respect to the elders past and present

who am I?


  • cybernetics and the history of futures
  • futures @ the ANU School of Cybernetics
  • cybernetic futures: a WIP

cybernetics and the history of futures

the study of purposeful, self-regulating systems


a short, mostly wrong story of futures in the 20th Century

cybernetic futures takeaways

  1. the stories we tell about the future influence the systems we build in the present (and vice versa)

  2. the relationships determine the long-term behaviour of the system (e.g. exponential growth vs balance)

ANU School of Cybernetics

(semi)autonomous AI components within systems feels like it’s gonna be transformative

SOCY exists to provide tools to manage that transformation… including cybernetic futures

what tools do we use?

we primarily run short (2h or less) workshops, sometimes as a one-off, sometimes with some followup

heavy use of scenarios

two example activities which link back to the two key takeaways: stories, and relationships

stories: the thing from the future

in pairs, come up with a (post-it note sized) description of a thing from the future according to a prompt:

in a ____ future, there is a ____ related to ____… what is it?

relationships: influence diagrams for futures

  • participants have some shared system they care about
  • collaboratively identify components & pairwise relationships between them
  • (in software) look for the loops, and use these as the “drivers” for creating future scenarios, which are then analysed for plausibility/preferability
  • some AI stuff involved in the scenario creation (WIP!)

cybernetic futures: a WIP

just trying to add tools to the futures toolbelt, especially in the “systems of autonomous systems” age

because unless you’ve invented your own framework, are you really even futuring?


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