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The call of Iyad Rahwan and colleagues for a science of “machine behaviour” that empirically studies artificial intelligence (AI) “in the wild” (Nature568, 477–486; 2019) is an example of ‘columbusing’. That is, what they claim to have discovered is, in fact, an existing field of study that has been producing vibrant, engaged research for decades. Cybernetics, the science of communications and automatic control systems in machines and living things, has been flourishing since the 1940s.