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Cybernetics: study this new type of engineering bringing together people and tech

Cybernetics is a type of engineering study exploring big dynamic systems, like the internet, the environment, governments, cultures and even our own bodies. It is also about building new systems that bring together people, technology and the environment.

Established in 2021, the ANU Master of Cybernetics is a unique and cutting-edge degree that combines top tech with social sciences. The aim? Building a new generation of experts who will help shape the tech future we want to live in.

The field of cybernetics is concerned with complex systems, has ties with the early development of artificial intelligence, and has applications across areas ranging from engineering to psychology.

Australian National University (ANU) offers a Master of Applied Cybernetics that provides transformational education experience, drawing upon high-impact research, and creating meaningful engagements with industry and the broader community. Alumni have gone on to senior leadership roles in digital, data and AI in federal and state governments, non-profits and industry, as well as on to PhDs with top global universities.

ANU’s School of Cybernetics is a non-traditional school based in the College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics at the Australian National University. It is a world-first postgraduate program in cybernetics.

And ANU is encouraging candidates who may have professional experience, but not an undergraduate degree to apply.

Multiple scholarships are available to remove barriers to entry and encourage diversity.

Find out more and apply for the 2024 Master of Applied Cybernetics here.

“I had no idea how my skills could be of use”

As a mid-career lawyer, Julian Vido was working in the community legal sector when he became interested in tech – specifically, how technology systems in the real world could contribute to new and existing injustices.

“While I wanted to see more responsible approaches to technology in the world, I had no idea how my skills could be of use,” says Julian. He figured the job of tackling these problems was the domain of people with computer science backgrounds – not Arts/Law grads like him.

Then he discovered the School of Cybernetics at ANU in Canberra, which “advocates for and teaches a different approach to how we engineer technology”. Julian completed the ANU Master of Applied Cybernetics in 2021.

“Applied Cybernetics calls on thinkers and doers from an array of different disciplines to contribute their expertise to the challenges we face in bringing artificial intelligence systems safely to scale,” he explains.

Only a small cohort of students go through the ANU Master of Applied Cybernetics in any given year, and enrolment is by competitive application. Julian was one of 11 students in 2021, and in 2023, there are just 20 places (2023 applications close 9 September 2022). No undergraduate degree is required, with applications open to any candidates who meet professional experience levels of assumed knowledge. People with diverse academic and career pathways are encouraged, with scholarships available.

“Rich, interdisciplinary learning experience”

For Julian, delving into the world of tech meant a steep learning curve. “Every week the curriculum presented a new thorny engineering problem that took me far from the familiar legal world I had previously known,” he says.

“From computer science to machine learning, data science and robotics – and yes, there was plenty of coding!”

These disciplines are mixed in with lessons in anthropology, media studies, sociology, design, creative writing, art history and photography. 

“Bringing these otherwise disparate corners of the academy together made for a rich, interdisciplinary learning experience, which shifted the way I thought about technology,” he says.

Julian says that completing the Master’s program was “completely different” from what he remembers of his experience as an undergraduate student. Big, crowded lecture halls and cramming for exams were replaced by a small, tight-knit group of fellow students who “collaborated daily on the challenges of building responsible technology systems”. Projects included prototyping solutions to e-waste, carbon emissions, over-policing, facial recognition biases and gender violence.

Julian is now combining his legal background with cybernetics for his PhD investigating how justice can be embedded in the design and implementation of technology systems.

In this video, Ned Cooper reflects on his experience in the ANU Master of Applied Cybernetics program.

This post was brought to you in partnership with the Australian National University School of Applied Cybernetics.

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