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The Cybernetic paradigm, key to a green and digital transition

cybernetic paradigm
Íñigo Ozcoidi

Íñigo Ozcoidi

Consultant expert in Digital & Industry

Humanity faces a colossal challenge: how to transform human life fast enough for 8 billion people to live sustainably and peacefully on our planet? There seems to be a prevailing consensus that the current trajectory, if left unchanged, is destined to fail.

To meet this great challenge, the role of industry emerges as a fundamental force. The prevailing paradigms of manufacturing and construction, as currently configured, fall short of addressing the pressing imperatives posed by the climate crisis and the planetary emergency. Moreover, they do not adequately respond to the profound social tensions of our time.

Faced with this pressing need to change industrial paradigms, the European Union has adopted a determined stance, which could be described as the Cybernetic paradigm. At the core of this new paradigm is the Twin transition, meaning the joint transition to a green digital future. It involves a fundamental shift towards reducing and reorienting consumption patterns, fostering sustainable, circular, and regenerative economic value creation, and promoting equitable prosperity.

The Cybernetic paradigm

Plato’s The Republic is the first work to use the term cybernetics (kybernetique), and the author uses it to speak of the art of navigation, comparing the governance of a ship to the governance of a community.

The term resurfaces with renewed meaning in the second half of the 20th century, thanks in part to Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine in 1948. This book, written in mathematical language, introduced his theory of control and communication in machines and animals, which he coined cybernetics.

Wiener is one of the main creators of cybernetics, a formalization of the notion of feedback, with many implications for engineering, systems control, computer science, biology, philosophy, and the organization of society.

According to Wiener, the functioning of living things and that of machines (especially modern digital machines) are analogous and parallel in their attempts to self-regulate through the implementation of feedback loops.

The concept of feedback, a central element of cybernetic theory, refers to the return of output within an information loop, which makes it possible to control the behavior of a system, be it technical, physical, biological, or social. It is precisely the ability of this paradigm to control the behaviour of social systems, specifically industry, which is of interest in this article.

Cybernetics in the European Green Deal

The diagram in this figure illustrates the fundamental principle of a closed-loop feedback control system applied to one of the European Union’s main strategies: the European Green Deal or European Green Transition.

This European strategy sets such ambitious objectives as achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, preserving biodiversity, promoting the circular economy and renewable energies, which can be considered the benchmark of the control system.

The European Commission represents the role of the system controller and the funding programs (Horizon Europe, Innovation Fund, LIFE Programme, etc.) are the inputs to the system.

The system on which this controller acts is society, with special emphasis on industry. The loop is closed by monitoring green KPIs, whose values intensify or relax the actions (funding programs) conducted by the European Commission.

For the Cybernetic paradigm to work effectively, two conditions must be met: having a clear objective and ensuring an optimal flow of information. Europe maintains the firm objective of leading the green transition and is actively working towards a digital transition.

This intertwined combination of transitions (the Twin Transition) strengthens the cyber paradigm and enhances the prospects of achieving the political and societal goals set by the European Union.

European Twin Transition

But why should the digital and green transition be conducted simultaneously and how do they feed back on each other? Both have a complementary nature and are closely related to the cyber paradigm, which can enhance the benefits of these transitions.

  • Environmental benefits of digitization: digital technologies can help control and optimize resource use, improve energy efficiency, and enable smart solutions for sustainable transportation and infrastructure.
  • Data-driven sustainability: digital tools and data analytics enable better monitoring of environmental indicators, helping policymakers make informed decisions for sustainable resource management and environmental protection.
  • Economic synergy: both transitions can create jobs and stimulate economic growth. The digital sector can support the green sector through investments in sustainable technologies.
  • Digitization in sustainability reporting: digital tools facilitate transparent and accurate reporting on environmental impact and progress towards sustainability goals.

Europe’s challenges for successful twin transitions

Related to the cybernetic paradigm, the JRC report Towards a green and digital future: key requirements for successful twin transitions in the European Union has identified a number of necessary preconditions for the successful implementation of twin transitions covering the green and digital domains. These preconditions act on social, technological, environmental, economic, and political facets.

An imperative precondition requires greater societal engagement, as an imposition from power is not a viable approach, as the researchers point out.

Moreover, to facilitate the acceptance of these transitions, it is necessary to imbue the dual transition with principles of equity and inclusiveness. Recognizing for example that not everyone can financially afford to install solar panels, he suggests that taxpayer-funded subsidies be put in place to ensure affordability, thus promoting a fair and efficient transition.

However, the increased reliance on data in the context of these transitions raises significant privacy concerns. Addressing these concerns requires the implementation of measures such as anonymizing data collection and minimizing data acquisition to the extent strictly indispensable.

In a technological context, it is necessary to establish the necessary infrastructure, starting with universal access to high-speed broadband Internet. In addition, it is paramount to ensure interoperability between various devices while ensuring an equitable distribution of benefits, with particular emphasis on the inclusion of small and medium-sized enterprises on an equal footing with large corporations.

More standards and requirements

Environmental requirements call for awareness campaigns and the imposition of enhanced environmental standards to avoid unintended consequences and rebound effects.

From an economic point of view, the creation of enabling markets is of paramount importance to avoid becoming entrenched in what is called an “innovation valley of death”, where research breakthroughs fail to manifest themselves in practical applications.

One essential facet involves the institution of a regulatory ecosystem characterized by strict ecological standards that internalize the external costs associated with pollution and emissions. In addition, improving the skills of the workforce is essential to fully exploit the potential of digital technologies.

Finally, from a political point of view, it is imperative that the European Union persists in its pioneering role by enacting lasting green and digital standards. Consistency in policymaking and the facilitation of private investment are of paramount importance in this context.



Expert person

Íñigo Ozcoidi
Íñigo Ozcoidi

Pamplona Office

Consultant expert in Digital & Industry