The Thing to Understand About the Word 'Cyber'

Cyber is now less a term of art than a term of war.

cyberwar.jpg

Cyber has come a long way since Norbert Wiener named the emergent field of systems, loops, and feedback, "cybernetics," as Ben Zimmer charts in today's Wall Street Journal

In a world in which computing is nearly ubiquitous, cyber now mostly indicates computing in a military context. It's less term of art than term of war. 

This new spin on "cyber" trickled all the way up to the commander in chief. Last year, Barack Obama told graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy that "we will maintain our military superiority in all areas--air, land, sea, space and cyber." At the Naval Academy, as the Navy Times reports, midshipmen will be able to major in "cyber" (short for "Cyber Operations") this coming fall.

Mr. Obama's formulation of "air, land, sea, space and cyber" holds the key to why "cyber" is succeeding as a 21st-century noun. Military power used to be deployed in the traditional arenas of land, sea and air, eventually joined by space. Now that list must be augmented as "cyberthreats" become as central a concern as any other for national security. With fears of cyberterrorism looming, "cyber" has, in a way, returned to its dark science-fiction roots.

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