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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Keywords: WOSC Congress, UK cybernetics, Dynamic expert systems, PostScript, Team syntegrity
Abstracts: Reviews some Internet connections arising from the WOSC Congress in August 1999, including the Web site of the UK Cybernetics Society, another associated with the Institute for Information Transmission Problems, Moscow, and an important discussion according to the principles of team syntegrity.
The 11th International Congress was held in Brunel University during 23-27 August 1999. A welcome feature was the participation of the UK Cybernetics Society. This active organisation holds regular meetings in King's College in The Strand, London, and full details of these, and various useful links and other items, appear on http://www.cybsoc.org/. The Society is ahead of WOSC in obtaining this easily-remembered "domain name" for the Web site. The site is in fact now linked to the WOSC page which has the cumbersome address of: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/alexandrew/wosc.htm and so provides a user-friendly way of accessing the WOSC page.
The officers of the Society use the Web site to post summaries of papers to be presented at meetings, and they are to be congratulated on their management of it. A particularly intriguing link is to the homepage of Professor Koichiro Matsuno of the Department of BioEngineering of Nagaoka University of Technology. From this, the user can download an interesting set of papers dealing with very fundamental aspects of cosmology and evolution, including several on the nature of time. In particular, they comment on the dubiousness of Newton's assumption of universal globally synchronised time, an assumption that seems remarkably natural when learning elementary physics and which is preserved in the special theory of relativity but not in the general theory.
However, other contents of the homepage of Professor Matsuno indicate his versatility since they refer to studies of volcanic vents in the ocean floor, and the hypothesis that life could have originated in such locations. Pictures are shown of laboratory apparatus in which the conditions were simulated, with the demonstration that significant organic compounds can be formed.
The personal Web site of the secretary of the Society, Anthony Booth, at http://netcomuk.co.uk/~abooth/index.html gives online access to a number of his papers, including two that are particularly relevant to neural nets and other adaptive systems, and hence to discussion at the WOSC Congress and at the Cybernetics Society Annual Conference on 25 September (for which abstracts can be seen at the Society's above-mentioned Web site).
The papers by Anthony Booth are relevant to basic issues in cybernetics and contain much food for thought, and no attempt will be made to analyse or summarise them here. The titles are: "Complex design with minimal commitment with application to artificial neurons" and "Better sand castles - a model for adaptive systems".
A large amount of valuable material is now available on personal Web sites, which are frequently quoted, for example, in communications to the automatic listservers that have been mentioned in earlier Commentaries. Compared to journal publication this has the obvious advantages of immediate availability of the material and subsequent rapid exchanges by e-mail with other workers. There is of course nothing to correspond to the refereeing imposed by journals, except that reputations gained by conventional publication will carry over to encourage exploration of the Web sites of the same authors. In any case, strict refereeing is not always appropriate and it can be useful to disseminate ideas that are too tentative to be published through normal channels. This is an important function of discussions at conferences, both inside and outside the lecture rooms, and the Internet allows the exchanges to be ongoing and widely accessible.
Two papers that were submitted and presented at the Congress were accidentally omitted from the printed Proceedings, but can be found on the author's Web site. They were presented by Vadim Stefanuk of the Institute for Information Transmission Problems of the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow. The address of the Institute's Web site is: http://www.iitp.ru/index.html and it gives information, mostly available in English, on current projects and about the directorship and staff, with links to personal pages. The personal page at which the papers can be found is: http://www.iitp.ru/personal/Vadim_Stefanuk/
The personal page gives references to many publications. One of the papers presented at the Congress is: "Homeostatic models in artificial intelligence" by D. Pospelov and V. Stefanuk, downloadable as a file called cyber3 under the heading: "Collective behavior, expediency, local organization and multi-agent systems". (This heading reflects the thinking of the Russian pioneer in this area, M.L. Tsetlin, whose pupil Vadim Stefanuk was). The other paper has the title: "Dynamic expert systems" by V. Stefanuk and is downloadable as a file called dynamo2 under the heading: "Dynamic and static expert systems".
The files cyber3 and dynamo2 are in PostScript format, and the means of displaying and printing their contents is not included in the usual software packages, even though PostScript is well-known and is the means of communication between computers and some printers, notably the Apple LaserWriter. The software necessary to open and view these files is associated with the term "ghostscript" and the necessary item is called "GSview", which can be downloaded, free of charge, from a site in the University of Wisconsin: http//www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost I am indebted to Vadim Stefanuk for setting me right on this, in response to my e-mail enquiry.
Another important connection to the Internet arose in the presentation by Allenna Leonard of her paper: "Mixed group syntegrations", reporting developments of the Syntegration procedure originally devised by Stafford Beer (1994). A full record of a particular Syntegration, termed Interaction 2, can be found at: http://www.interaction2.org.uk/ The event took place in Brighton, UK 26-28 March 1998. The opening question was: "How can the UK build a viable and sustainable digital media economy over the next five years?" The importance of the issue can hardly be exaggerated, in view of its social and ethical as well as vast economic significance, and a special challenge arises from the unpredictability of this innovative field.
The 30 practitioners who were invited to participate were drawn from diverse private, public and academic sectors. Additional participants from three continents contributed via the Web site. A wealth of valuable comment appears in the final report, which is still available online at the time of preparing this Commentary (November 1999), though only guaranteed to be retained until March.
The 12 topics chosen for the Syntegrity procedure were: Definitions of Digital Media, Exporting, Creative Ecologies, Micro-Enterprises, Creative Risk, The Public Sector, Policy and Legislation, Education, Privacy and Trust, Channels, The Global Digital Economy, Communications. (The term "micro-enterprises" is to be interpreted literally as referring to small enterprises, not necessarily producing small items. The reference to "channels" is also to be taken in a down-to-earth sense, having some overlap with "communications" but with an emphasis on readiness of access.)
Other sources of information and comment, quoted in the report and available on the Internet, are a report from the International Data Corporation, available at: http://www.idc.com, and a US Government report entitled "The emerging digital economy", released in April 1998 and available at: http://www.ecommerce.gov/emerging.htm Both of these contain a wealth of statistical data and predictions based on it.
Alex M. Andrew
Beer, S. (1994), Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity, Wiley, Chichester.