World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 February 2000


(2000), "World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC)", Kybernetes, Vol. 29 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC)

World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC)

1. Eleventh International Congress of Cybernetics and Systems, Brunel University, Uxbridge, West London, UK, 23-27 August 1999

The triennial congress of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics was held at Brunel University, West London, UK some 30 years after the founding of the organisation. The First International Congress of Cybernetics and Systems was held in London (UK) in August 1969. This event attracted luminaries of the then burgeoning interdisciplinary science of cybernetics from many countries worldwide. The organisers believe that this led to the "... foundation of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics and its journal Kybernetes".

Subsequent triennial congresses were held, all of which continued to enhance the reputation of the organisation. These events were important milestones in the advance of cybernetics and each one and its venue continue to feature even in today's cybernetic literature. They were held at Oxford (UK); Bucharest (Romania); Amsterdam, 1978; Mexico City, 1981; Paris (France), 1984; London (UK), 1987; New York (USA), 1990; New Delhi (India), 1993; Bucharest (Romania), 1996. Perhaps in the future the 11th Congress held at Brunel, London will feature in the list of significant events in the history of cybernetics and systems. Certainly most participants will have lasting memories of some part of the congress whether at a plenary session or during the many presentations and discussions.

This congress differed from all previous events in that it was held at Brunel University in order to pay tribute to the memory of the late Professor Frank H. George, who was the holder of the Chair of Cybernetics at the University. The Chair was in itself endowed as a pioneer in venture due to the vision and the efforts of Professor Stafford Beer, now president of WOSC. It was as the director of the Department of Cybernetics at Brunel, the precursor of the Department of Cybernetics and then as the holder of the Chair of Cybernetics, that F.H. George stimulated and steered the department's growth, attracting students and researchers from all over the world. At the same time he was a highly active figure in the field of industrial and commercial research work and achieved a prodigious output of articles and books. It was therefore essential that the congress dedicated to his memory and held at his own university should be a fitting tribute and a worthy reminder of his life's contribution to cybernetics and systems.

Although the venue was not regarded by some participants as being as exotic as many of the previous ones, its position so near to London proved to be extremely popular - too popular for some, it would seem, who were only to attend the important sessions and ignore what was happening on the congress fringes! Even so, the informal discussions of fellow researchers in the field proved to be as fruitful as ever. The old conference saying that more is gained away from the sessions than at them was as true as ever.

The congress itself covered a wide spectrum of topics ranging from philosophical cybernetics to bio-medical cybernetics. Of the 123 papers listed in the comprehensive volume of abstracts of the papers to be presented, not all were delivered in person. It was disappointing for some participants but now it would seem, an inevitable result of the new approach to conferences taken by the present generation. Perhaps we should be grateful that those who failed to present had at least contributed an abridged paper. Fortunately, they were in the minority and the papers from some 28 countries provided important descriptions of recent developments in the field and pointed to the new directions in research and in the changing interests of scientists working in systems and cybernetics.

The plenary opening session was addressed by the director-general of WOSC, Professor Robert VallÉe (France) who outlined the congress' aims. They were: to establish cybernetics on a sound and scientific basis; to establish a forum for an exchange of ideas and up-to-date information; to strengthen international liaison and co-operation in the interdisciplinary field of cybernetics.

He said that WOSC was founded 30 years ago by Professor J. Rose with Norbert Wiener as the President in memoriam.

Professor Vallée extended to the congress the apologies of the president of WOSC, Professor Stafford Beer, who unfortunately was unable to attend. His presence was missed by all participants at the congress. It was a pleasure later in the congress to have a video of his tribute to Warren S. McCulloch played. It was very well received and was one of the highlights of the week (the full text of the director-general's address is published in this section).

To mark the opening of the congress, which was dedicated to the late Professor George, two Frank H. George Memorial Lectures were delivered in the presence of his widow Mrs Jacqueline George. They were by two of his friends who were both colleagues and students at Brunel University during the time he held the Chair of Cybernetics. Both speakers were able to reminisce about their links with Professor George and at the same time deliver stimulating lectures. Professor Tom R. Addis (University of Portsmouth, UK) called his contribution "`Stone soup': identifying intelligence through contact". In the second memorial lecture, Professor Leslie Johnson (University of Kent at Canterbury, UK) spoke about "Cybernetics and management". The afternoon of the plenary opening session was followed by the presentation of the prestigious Norbert Wiener Gold Memorial Medal to Professor Ilya Prigogine (Nobel Laureate). This was followed by a lecture which proved to be a fascinating study both of his life's work and contemporary thinking in the research fields in which he has excelled (it is hoped to publish the lecture and a report of the ceremony in a coming issue).

The successful opening session closed with the presentation by Dr Brian Warburton, the chairman of the British Cybernetics Society, of the British Cybernetics £1,000 Prize (a detailed report of this event is also to be published later).

Following the plenary opening sessions the real work of the congress started, with section meetings that were concerned with some of the mainstream researches of cyberneticians and systemists. These were held over three days and included the sessions: Philosophical cybernetics and consciousness (Professor D. Dutta Majumder, chairman (India)); Perception and cognition (in two sessions chaired by Dr Andreewsky et al. (France)); Biocybernetics (Professor Yves Cherruault, chairman (France)); Bio-medical cybernetics (Professor Majumder, chairman (India)); Economic cybernetics (in two sessions chaired by Dr A. Ghosal et al. (India)); Systems self organisation, informatics (in two sessions chaired by Dr A. Andrew et al. (UK)); Social systems (in two sessions chaired by Professors B.H. Rudall and R. Espejo (UK)); Environmental cybernetics and ecosystems (Professor R.H. Charlier (Belgium)); Systems and cybernetics methodologies (in two sessions chaired by Dr S. Novikava (Belarus) and Professor Pereira (Brazil)); Acalugaritei networks (Parts 1 and 2, Professor Acalugaritei); Automation and robotics (merged session - see Proceedings); Artificial intelligence (Dr Al Cristea (Romania)); Intelligent and adaptive systems (In two sessions chaired by Professors Z. Bubnicki (Poland)); General homeostatics (in two sessions chaired by Professor Yu Gorsky (Russia)); Applied problems of homeostatics (Dr L. Volkov; Principles of cybernetics as a general theory of control systems (Dr A.V. Jdanko, chairman (Israel)).

Into these sessions and not included in the Congress Proceedings were a further 15 papers which were included in the relevant sessions. These were late submissions of accepted papers which had been delayed in transmission to the organisers. It is always unfortunate that such papers often fail to reach the literature and we all suffer if they remain unpublished. It is to be hoped that the official journal of WOSC can find the space to publish at least some of them even if in an abridged form.

As usual, participants were faced with a dilemma because sessions were in parallel, with as many as two or three occuring simultaneously. Cutting a path between them to take in the papers of one's choice proved to be almost impossible because chairmen, out of the best possible reasons, changed the order in which some papers were presented. A number of "no-shows", now a common occurrence in events of this nature, makes this inevitable and unfortunately there is little the organisers can do except to demand a pre-recorded video of the Presentation. This, incidentally, is now more than a possibility as we examine how teleconferencing and Internet interactive conferences can play a part in our communications.

It would be invidious to pick out any of these sessions as being more productive or worthwhile than any other The high standard of the biocybernetics session has to be mentioned. This was due to the input of one of the leading authorities in the field, Professor Yves Cherruault, who with his colleagues from MEDIMAT (France) gave excellent presentations, but unfortunately to a much smaller group than was envisaged. The number of parallel sessions taking place led to many small, if dedicated, groups for the presentations in topic areas not well represented at the conference. On the other hand, sessions such as social systems offered a wide ranging menu of speakers and topics. This session had to be held in two parts and a variety of speakers, including Doctors Stewart, Leonard, Scott, Taylor, were well supported with the chairmen Professors Espejo and Rudall hard put to control the evident enthusiasm and desire to continue discussions.

Another successful session, again in two parts, was chaired by Professor Bubnicki (Poland) and considered current research in intelligent and adaptive systems. Similar response was evident at the session chaired by Dr A.M. Andrew (UK) when systems, self organisation and informatics were considered. Dr Andrew spoke about self-organisation in artificial neural sets. He pointed out that the usefulness of artificial neural nets stems from their ability to self-adjust, or in some sense "learn". He defended an earlier viewpoint and gave some possible extensions to symbolic processing that is related to the views of Minsky and Pask.

Papers on bio-medical cybernetics were also well received and judged to provide "real world" applications to cybernetic techniques. This was in evidence later in the congress when the panel of judges, given the almost impossible task of choosing one outstanding contribution from so many for the MCB University-sponsored Frank H. George Research Award, favoured work carried out by the team of researchers led by Professor D. Dutta Majumder of Calcutta (India) (Plate 1). He is already well known for his contributions to cybernetics in his many scientific papers in these fields and for his innovative applications of its methodologies (details of the award and its presentation are included in this section).

During the congress the official dinner was held at the university under the chairmanship of Professor Robert Vallée (Plates 2 and 3). He introduced Professor Rudall, the editor-in-chief of Kybernetes, to speak about the research award sponsored by the journal's publishers (Plate 4). The £3,000 award was presented by Mrs Goodall, who represented Mrs George (Plate 1). Professor Vallée followed by introducing Dr E Andreewsky (France) as the recipient of the coveted Honorary Fellowship of WOSC. This is an award that is restricted to a small band of scientists who are deemed to have made important contributions to cybernetics and systems. It currently includes Nobel Laureates and other distinguished cyberneticians and systemists.

Plate 1 Frank H. George Research Award - Professor Majumder receives the award from Mrs Goodall (for Mrs George)

Plate 2Congress participants at the official dinner

Plate 3Professor Robert Vallée (director-general) and Dr Alex Andrew (director) at the official congress dinner

Someone who has made one of the most outstanding contributions to cybernetics and systems is Professor J. Rose (UK) (Plate 5) who, by founding the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics, provided the scientific community with the means of advancing these important fields and encouraging new approaches to so many research and development endeavours that have challenged us over the centuries. This was referred to by the WOSC director-general when he expressed the thanks of all congress participants and the members of the federated organisations and institutions who form WOSC for his devoted service to the organisation. In fact it was made clear that without Professor Rose's intervention the congress would not have taken place as planned. Those present also made haste to thank Robert Vallée for his part in organising what was generally regarded as a most successful and worthwhile congress.

Plate 4Professor Brian Rudall introduces the winners of the Kybernetes-sponsored research awards

Plate 5 Professor J. Rose (hon. director, WOSC) (right) in discussion with Professor Vadim Stefanuk (Moscow University)

This was made evident by the particularly lively audience that remained on campus until the last session. This was a well attended plenary closing session. Chaired by Professor Rose, it included stimulating presentations by Professor Vallée and Dr Andrew. The former spoke about the "Future of cybernetics" and the latter on "Some reflections on Norbert Wiener and Warren McCulloch". Both were so well received that the final planned WOSC Assembly had to be cut short and had to continue over coffee and the lunch breaks. At the assembly meeting Professor Rudall, the director of the WOSC Norbert Wiener Institute, reported on its work and future activities. (The report is to be published in later issues of the WOSC official journal Kybernetes.)

This was a good moment to end such a conference when the delegates hopefully fired with enthusiasm for the future can leave on a high note and return to their researches in more than the 30 countries worldwide that they represented. Editors note: A review of the Proceedings of this congress is included in the Book Reviews sections of this issue.

2. Congress address of the WOSC director-general

Dear Colleagues,This International Congress of Cybernetics and Systems of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics is the 11th of a series of conferences which started in London (1969) and continued with Oxford, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Paris, London, New York, New Delhi and Bucharest (1996). It is devoted to the memory of the late Frank H. George, Professor at Brunel University, Honorary Fellow of the WOSC. The world organisation of systems and cybernetics, ou en francais organisation mondiale pour la systémique et la cybernétique, is a federation of associations or institutions devoted to systems or cybernetics. It has been founded 30 years ago by Professor J. Rose the president in memoriam is Norbert Wiener, the president, who regrets deeply not to be present today, is Professor Stafford Beer and the honorary director-general is Professor J. Rose. The purpose of WOSC is to promote systems and cybernetics through information between its members, organisation of congresses and publication of a journal. Moreover, an honorary fellowship of the WOSC and a Norbert Wiener Memorial Gold Medal have been instituted. The official journal of WOSC has been founded by Professor J. Rose in 1971, it is published by MCB University Press and its editor-in-chief is Professor Brian H. Rudall, director of the Norbert Wiener Institute of WOSC. The World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics also has a Website managed by Dr Alex Andrew, director for international affairs. It is my pleasure to thank the many scientific personalities who accepted to join the honorary patrons committee and the international scientific committee, also Brunel University for its hospitality, MCB University Press, all those who will give a plenary lecture and all the participants. I hope that this congress, which takes place around 50 years after the publication of Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics, 100 years after the birth of Warren S. McCulloch and 90 years after that of Ludwig von Bertalanffy will have a great success.Robert Vallée,Director-General of WOSC, Professor émerite È l'Université, Paris-Nord

3. Citation for the award of the Norbert Wiener Memorial Gold Medal by the Director-General of The World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics to Professor Ilya Prigogine (Nobel Laureate)

By order of the council of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics, the Norbert Wiener Memorial Gold Medal is awarded to Professor Ilya Prigogine in recognition of his exceptional achievements in systems science and cybernetics. The scientific activity of Ilya Prigogine at Univérsite Libre de Bruxelles and later at Chicago University and the Ilya Prigogine Center for Studies in Statistical Mechanics, Thermodynamics and Complex Systems at the University of Texas, started mainly with his doctoral thesis devoted to irreversible processes and placed under the aegis of thermodynamics of systems far from equilibrium. This original subject proved to be fundamental both for theory and applications. It led Ilya Prigogine to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977. If we look for an inspiring theme in Ilya Prigogine's researches, we find the concept of irreversible time which plays, in cybernetics, an important place underlined by Norbert Wiener following the line of Henri Bergson. The development of this concept by Ilya Prigogine as well as those of entropy, complexity and chaos, led, among other things, to a better understanding of creativity. Ces contributions font de Ilya Prigogine l'un des plus eminents innovateurs dans les domaines de la théorie des systÉmes et de la cybernétique.Professor R. Vallée (France)