November 20 is the twenty-second meeting for Systems Thinking Ontario. The registration is on Eventbrite.

Theme: Systems and Cybernetics -- Past and Present

With her long experience in systems and cybernetics communities, Allenna Leonard will lead a discussion on current thinking reflected in the 16th Congress of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics, as well as some of the historical context dating back to the 1970s.

On systems and cybernetics in the present, the discussion will center on Allenna's keynote address at WOSC, "Seeing Around Corners: Stafford Beer's Continuing Legacy"

On systems and cybernetics in the past, the discussion will benefit by an October 2014 article on the history of Project Cybersyn, and the relevance to Big Data, today.

Suggested Reading

Allenna Leonard | Seeing Around Corners: Stafford Beer's Continuing Legacy" | 16th Congress of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics | October 2014, transcript cached on Google Docs.

Abstract:  Seeing Around Corners - Stafford Beer’s Continuing Legacy

Like Norbert Wiener, Ross Ashby and Heinz von Foerster, Stafford belonged to a tradition of public intellectuals who had been profoundly influenced by World War II and determined that science and technology be used in the service of humanity. In that war, under the rubric of operational research, many disciplines worked together for their common defence. Later, in British Steel, Stafford continued that tradition, bringing a multi-disciplinary perspective to innovation in industry. This approach resulted in his invitation to work on the Cybersyn project. He applied knowledge from neurophysiology, sociology, mathematics, psychology, philosophy, operational research and the arts to assist the government of Salvador Allende to manage the state run economy. Central to that work were the recursive Viable System Model, the real-time monitoring of key indices in the operations room and early designs that eventually led to the Team Syntegrity process. A key feature was to be able to perceive the weak signals that presaged incipient instability – what we might now refer to as ‘emergence’ and to deflect them before they began to cause trouble. These tools for ‘seeing around corners’ are as important now as they were forty years ago.

In the present time, his dictum “the purpose of a system is what it does” is even more relevant. There is better instrumentation available now to measure and assess weak – and not so weak – signals but perhaps even more incentive

The risks and the opportunities that Stafford foresaw have moved forward in ways that he, along with others, predicted. To name just two, research in neurophysiology has led to both amazing advances, especially in medical science, and fearsome threats to our privacy. The networks of machines, now referred to as the ‘internet of things’ can be incredibly effective in establishing ‘communication and control’ but it is much too easy to skip over the setting of initial conditions and the perspectives of engaged, or disengaged, observers. We will honour their commitment and the good will and expertise that characterized the Cybersyn project by remembering not just what was dreamed of and accomplished then but by grasping the opportunities that exist now to put them into action.

A recent New Yorker article weaves together many threads; the origins of Cybernetics, the brutal 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in Chile, Google, Apple, Open Data, Big Data, emerging peer-to-peer  business models like Uber, and... "PowerPoint rage".

Participants should not feel limited to this suggested pre-reading, but should recognize that other attendees may have not read, or are reading differently, that article.


Post-meeting artifacts

Bloggers are encouraged to write about their learning and experiences at the meeting. Links will be added to this page.