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Report from the World Organisation for Systems and Cybernetics 2014 congress
Article Type: Report from the World Organisation for Systems and Cybernetics 2014 congress From: Kybernetes, Volume 44, Issue 1
The World Organisation for Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC) holds a congress once every three years, and the 16th congress, WOSC (2014), was held in Ibagué, Colombia, from the 15 to 17 October 2014.
There has always been a close association between WOSC and Kybernetes, not least because the journal and the organization were founded by the same person: Professor John Rose. Kybernetes is the official journal of WOSC and there will be a Special Issue of the journal arising from WOSC (2014) in Issues 7 and 8 of Volume 44 (2015), with the title of The Cybernetics of Self-Organisation. This will be guest edited by Professor Raul Espejo, the current director general of WOSC, and will feature about 20 papers by some of the keynote speakers and delegates to WOSC (2014), following the usual Kybernetes process of peer review.
The headline theme of WOSC (2014) was “Our self-organizing world: from disruption to reparation”, with the sub-title of “Systems and cybernetics applied to technology, design, governance and power”. A particular focus of the keynote presentations was to look back to Project Cybersyn of Allende’s Chile in 1971-1973, both to explore what it is was and how it came about, but also to learn from it and to recognise the relevance that this early pioneering work of cybernetics has to today’s information society. An impressive line-up of keynote speakers including those most qualified to speak of Cybersyn started with Fernando Flores, who was a minister in the Chilean Government at the time, and who invited the British theorist of cybernetics, Stafford Beer, to Chile to develop Project Cybersyn. Flores was followed by Eden Medina who is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries, the celebrated account of Cybersyn (Medina, 2011), and then by Allenna Leonard who has been at the forefront of work continuing to promote and develop the ideas of Beer since his death in 2002.
Project Cybersyn may seem to come from a different world. The technology is extremely crude by today’s standards and the political environment has changed almost beyond recognition, yet in many ways it foreshadows, and has lessons for, the most recent sociotechnical concerns. Big data, the internet of things, algorithmic regulation: these are currently and justifiably making headline news and absorbing significant research resources, yet as Flores, Medina and Leonard showed, we can learn about them all from Project Cybersyn.
Other keynote speakers were less specifically focussed on Cybersyn and Stafford Beer but continued themes linking a cybernetic and systems-theoretic heritage to current issues. Geoff Mulgan talked of the continuing intractability of “wicked problems”, and explored how new insights from a systems approach can help. Carlos Gershenson explored Ashby’s law of requisite variety, autopoiesis and self-organization with an interesting illustration associated with congestion control by traffic lights. Dario Rodriguez spoke about autopoietic social systems, Clas-Otto Wene described the insights from second-order cybernetics to the economics of future energy systems and Raul Espejo talked about Self-Organisation of Policy Processes: Recursive Structures and Reflexive Communications. A joint presentation by Ximena Dávila and Humberto Maturana addressed the concept of zero-time cybernetics.
From time to time WOSC awards the Norbert Wiener Memorial Gold Medal to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the development and recognition of Systems and Cybernetics at the national and international levels, and on the final day of WOSC (2014), a medal was awarded to Humberto Maturana. It was a privilege to be present to hear about the life and work of this inspirational and original thinker, and to hear him speak.
The programme of refereed presentations was wide ranging and engaging. Speakers from across the world contributed to nine different streams in 19 sessions, with themes such as Digital society and business ecosystems; Power, citizenship and democracy; Complexity, sustainability and self-organisation; and Networks of influence: systems dynamics. At this point I would like to express my admiration of, and gratitude for, the work of the translators at the congress. I am embarrassingly mono-lingual and was entirely reliant on the translation of presentations into English. Not only was simultaneous translation provided with the aid of wireless headphone sets during the keynote speeches, but personal simultaneous translation available wherever needed in the parallel streams.
Another consequence of the close relationship between Kybernetes and WOSC is that Emerald, the publishers of Kybernetes, sponsors “best paper” awards for the congress. The session chairs met on the final day to determine the winners of the awards, and there was no shortage of candidates. The winning papers are listed at the end of this report, and the editors of Kybernetes together with the staff at Emerald offer sincere congratulations to all the winners. The authors of these papers, in common with all the presenters at the Congress, have been invited to submit full papers to the Special Issue so we hope that you will have the chance to read their work next year.
WOSC (2014) was hosted by the Universidad de Ibagué, and this brief report would not be complete without thanking the university for the very warm and generous welcome they offered to all of us who attended the Congress. The welcome was felt throughout both the daytime congress activities and the evening social events, but a highlight for me was a concert by the Ibagué youth orchestra in the evening of the first day of the conference. Seldom have I seen such genuine and infectious enthusiasm – combined with consummate skill – in a group of young people.
Kybernetes WOSC awards
Best paper award (certificate, £200, and one year’s free subscription to Kybernetes):
A system dynamics model of the nutritional stage of the Colombian population by socioeconomic status, Jose David Meisel, O5lga L. Sarmiento, Camilo Olaya and Roberto Zarama
Highly Commended (certificates):
Sharing business partner behaviour, Igor Perko, Andreja Primec and Robert Horvat
Towards a non-trivializing education, Germán Bula
Modeling and simulating moral emotions in organizations: exploring its impact on collaboration, Oswaldo Terán, Christophe Sibertin-Blanc and Benoit Gaudou
Medina, E. (2011), Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
WOSC (2014), available at: http://wosc-congress.unibague.edu.co/ (accessed 13 January 2014).