June 26, 2010
My whole life I've thought that the prefix "cyber" was drawn from some Greek word that --in a stretch-- somehow referred to computers. David Bell now tells me that the prefix "cyber" actually comes from "cybernetics", a word invented by scientist Norbert Wiener sometime before the publication of his 1948 book, Cybernetics or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Wiener used the term to refer to: "A theory of the control and communication of regulatory feedback in biological, sociotechnical or social systems." (Bell, Cyberculture Theorists, p. 3) According to Bell, the word is from the Greek "kubernites", "meaning steersman, governor, pilot or rudder." (p. 3)
The explicit link to computing seems to have come only later, with the rise of cyberpunk science fiction in the early 1980s. Bruce Bethke's short story "Cyberpunk" [pdf] appeared in 1980. (Bethke explains --more or less-- the etymology of "cyberpunk" here.) But, "cyber" as we use the term today really took off after the 1984 publication of William Gibson's novel Neuromancer, which coined the term "cyberspace".