Cybernetics, Invented in Romania in 1938

Norbert Wiener revolutionized the world in 1948 when he introduced the concept of cybernetics. However, a Romanian scientist had done precisely the same ten years earlier. 

concept of cybernetics and people
Stefan Odoblejast is considered to be the father of Romanian cybernetics, which is the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things. Photo: Vitstudio / Adobe Stock

Romanian Stefan Odobleja was more than a skilled surgeon and a thoughtful analyst. He is considered the father of Romanian cybernetics, the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things. 

As the story goes, in 1937, Dr. Odobleja attended the 9th International Medicine and Pharmaceutics Congress in Bucharest, where he presented a prospectus of his Psihologie Consonantiste, which was to be published the following year. In a striking coincidence, two of the doctors present at the conference ended up on Wiener’s research team years later.

Not long after, Odobleja’s 880-page work was published in French in Paris by Maloins. Alas, as with many great discoveries, his ideas were too far ahead of their time. Perceived as “science-fiction ideas,” the potential applications of his work were largely ignored.

A bright mind overshadowed by misfortune

Just as the two volumes were set to print, Dr. Odobleja was forced to relocate his activity to the other side of the country. At the same time, his scientific contributions caught the eye – and the ire – of military leaders of then-communist Romania. Not only that, but he also ended up on the blacklist of the movement against communism. And as if things couldn’t get worse, WWII was just around the corner. It seemed like the scientist was surrounded from all sides. 

And thus, his career ended before it even really had the chance to begin. After WWII and a brief re-encounter with academia in Bucharest, he settled in the provincial city of Dej, where he would marry and eventually retire. However, this was not the end.

For 30 years, the doctor avoided any public appearances but continued writing and studying. During this period, striking similarities between his Psihologie Consonantiste and Wiener’s Cybernetics became evident. In 1972, upon reading the paper, he exclaimed, “Cybernetics were invented in Romania in 1938!” In order to prove his claim and take back credit for his ideas, he published Consonantist Psychology and Cybernetics, which would be published in the last year of his life.

stefan odobleja on romanian stamp
Romania recognized the contributions of Stefan Odobleja to the field of cybernetics by featuring him on a postage stamp. Photo: Wikipedia.org

“He returned late to the battle of destiny.” – Ileana Roman

Unable to attend the Cybernetics International Congress due to illness, he sent over the work Diversity and Unity in Cybernetics, a paper which finally earned him international recognition as the “precursor of cybernetics.” However, this title fails to accurately describe the doctor as the father of cybernetics.

After his death in 1978, Odobleja finally began to receive the recognition he deserved. In 1982, the Ștefan Odobleja Cybernetics Academy organization was established in Switzerland, and around the same time, the Romanian Academy posthumously declared him an honorary member in appreciation for his work in cybernetics. Not to mention the prestigious high schools across Romania that bear his name. Today, Stefan Odobleja remains one of our world’s most influential figures, despite being hidden by the shadows of bad luck and misfortune. 

Naomi Gherman

Master student in Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations at Babeș-Bolyai University, eager to share more about our world's most fascinating stories and people. Romania-based reader, writer and content creator with a strong interest in journalism, foreign languages and politics.

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