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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research, Technological developments
Abstracts: Reports and surveys are given of selected current research and development in systems and cybernetics. They include: Interdisciplinary research, Innovations, Formal methods for safety-critical systems, Biocybernetics, Internet access for all, Management cybernetics, Cybernetics and automation, Shrinking the robot.
Need for the interdisciplinary approach
One of the main roles of cyberneticians is to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to problems and to make it the natural way to tackle any research project. Slowly this approach is now becoming a more common way of dealing with problems, particularly those that arise in business and. industry. There is still, however, a degree of reticence in the way some established academics approach their own disciplines. Recent conferences have yet again illustrated from the presentations made that we are still hidebound in many of the techniques and methodologies we apply.
At a recent meeting, for example, it was worrying to witness the approach of one researcher to his problems and a refusal on his part to recognise that the traditional way of dealing with research in a particular discipline needed reviewing. In some cases we have seen among certain groups of researchers a complete denial that mathematical notation and mathematical techniques can even be considered in their discipline.
Call for interdisciplinary research
Perhaps additional help is at hand in our attempt to encourage other researchers and academics to use cybernetics in their work. This comes, at least in the UK, from an initiative called PACCIT (people at the centre of communication and information technology). This was initiated last year as a result of discussions about the important and emerging areas of interdisciplinary research, and its requirement for long-term funding. Seminars about PACCIT were given in the UK, in London and Glasgow, in October 1999 to put forward the goals to be aimed at and to provide details of a new joint research council's »4 million research programme in the UK. Proposals for this programme were invited for last November (1999).
The PACCIT programme is designed to support research modelling, the design of interactive systems and, in particular, addresses (but will not be limited to) the following topics:
working with knowledge - finding information; transforming information; remembering information;
information technology (IT) and the process of design.
This programme is mirrored in other countries worldwide but in many of its facets it is undoubtedly unique and serves as an encouragement to other government endeavours worldwide. It is, for example, to be an academic-focused programme with the aim to advance knowledge through the pursuit of radical new ideas. In particular there is a desire by the funding councils that the participating research projects address longer-term issues. In its brief to intending participants in the programme the joint research councils say that:
Information and communication technologies are increasingly affecting every aspect of our lives. Rapid technological developments have not always delivered their intended benefits because our understanding of how such technologies should be designed to maximise their benefits to users has been inadequate.Research is needed to develop a much greater understanding of the psychological, social and organisational characteristics of individuals and groups as they relate to, and interact with, information technologies, and to feed this knowledge back into evaluation and design of more effective IT systems and products. Research in PACCIT will attempt to do this.
Information about the UK's interdisciplinary programme
Further updated information about the interdisciplinary research programme and the discussions and proposals that have been made are currently viewed on the Weblink: www.esrc.ac.uk/PACCITproj.htm Contact can also be made with: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
UK's joint councils are: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economical and Social Research Council (ESRC).