The introduction of computers created new fields of enquiry that assessed the impact of the transmission and processing of information on industry as part of information theory. Pioneering work in the fields of communication laid the foundations for the study of cybernetics. Cybernetics is the science of communications and automatic control systems in machine and human contexts, and work in this field set in motion an appreciation of the utility of information in society, and the effects that its adoption would have on the conduct of business.

Productive Forces

Typically, the knowledge that went into producing goods was considered part of the ‘Productive Forces’ of land, labour, capital and the instruments (machines) of labour. In the Marxist view of the world technical change precipitated social change and the liberation of workers. The productive forces being combined into productive capacity and regulated by social structures of control provided the engine of social change. The management, power and control of the productive forces was harnessed to revolutionise industrial development and the development of markets. The technological determinism this created where society had to adapt to technological change [1] arguably led to a decomposition of the manufacturing process towards optimising production in production lines, but stifled innovation and the development of new ideas.


Emerging in the 1950’s and 1960’s the study of cybernetics and control systems formalised the understanding of the functions and processes of systems. Systems have goals and participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with the desired goal, and again to action.

The inclusion of cybernetic loops, like the one shown above, interact with the productive forces to introduce concepts like learning, cognition, adaptation, social control, emergence, convergence, communication and connectivity into the productive capacity of organisations. This has led to improved innovation and thinking in business processes, see the post here

Knowledge Economies

With increasing computerisation and the immediacy that allowed distant, synchronous, real-time interaction with production, a ‘Space of Flows’ [2] developed. This allowed new time and space arrangements enabled by the new technological blueprints to develop. However, as ‘information is not matter or energy’ [3] , but needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication infrastructure is required to direct and control information and unify productive forces into a spatially distributed, knowledge based means of production.

As part of a knowledge economy organisations seek to capitalise and convert information into knowledge to stimulate and deepen the business development process. This knowledge takes four main forms [4]:

  • Know -what. What information to apply to the problem (Facts)
  • Know-why. Why we are applying the information to the problem (Science and Theory)
  • Know-who. Which parties can apply the information to best effect (People and Communication)
  • Know-how. How to apply the information, the innovation or transfer of the knowledge from the theoretical domain into practice (Development and ‘street smart’ knowledge)

Blending of the four main knowledge forms can help to stimulate innovation and create value for the information economy. This releases value from the restrictions that bind the inefficient use of productive forces. Especially when resources are in short supply, it is the use of knowledge and innovative thinking that helps to convert these restrictions into value.

Like manufacturing in the 20th century, many countries pursue the goal of becoming “knowledge economies”. Information is driving production across industries, borders and boundaries. Information markets have developed that can be used as an instrument of power or traded for information of greater value. Therefore, cybersecurity is considered vital to defend processes that demand more information for business transformation. Such information has a value in sharing and aggregation that can increase its value and applicability to other contexts.

Cybersecurity in the Knowledge Economy

The transformation between information and knowledge is based on the principles of information brokerage and sharing as not all individuals or organisations control all types of knowledge. This requires the special addition of controls to information, distinct from the other productive assets. Knowledge economy threats include the poisoning or polluting of interconnected systems by tainting the information on which the systems depend.

Examples of this kind of injected threat have been seen in DNS cache attacks [5], paralysing the operation of aluminium smelters at Norsk Hydro [6], and affecting the operation of insulin pumps and medical equipment [7].  The convergence of technology and production requires information sharing but also means that privacy and confidentiality are important parts of the equation. Infrastructure hardening and encryption of the messages passed between systems provides security and integrity to the data.


In creating social structures for safe transformation and to harness information as a productive force, the industrial and cyber strategies [8,9] of governments should act to develop and protect the productive and information strands of the economy. Industrial strategy directs productive forces to develop the skills-base and create the right institutions to bring together people, sectors and places. Cyber Security strategy should protect these aims for the productive forces in the economy by safeguarding information and knowledge to help build a regulatory regime that instils confidence, capability and resilience into the fast-moving digital world.


[1]: Miller, R.W., 1981. Productive Forces and the Forces of Change: A Review of Gerald A. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense. The philosophical review90(1), pp.91-117.

[2]: Castells, Manuel. “An Introduction to the Information Age” in The Information Society Reader, Frank Webster, Raimo Blom, Erkki Karvonen, Harri Melin, Kaarle Nordenstreng, and Ensio Puoskari, editors. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. pp 138–49.

[3] :


[5]: Sample, C. and Karamanian, A., 2015. Culture and cyber behaviours: DNS defending. Journal of Information Warfare14(4), pp.60-76.