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19.1-2 | Global Conversation | Contents and Abstracts

Issue 19.1-2 cover image by © Diego Fagundes da Silva (2021)

Published onMay 28, 2022
19.1-2 | Global Conversation | Contents and Abstracts

Issue 19.1-2 cover image by © Diego Fagundes da Silva (2021)



Global conversations on cybernetics


** The editorial is available to the public for free via Intellect Discover.


Leading by design: The synergy of second-order cybernetics and transformative leadership


As cyberneticians living at this pivotal moment for global change, we see on the horizon exciting new prospects as well as ferocious storms. Who is qualified to navigate and give direction at such high stakes? If cybernetics is the art of navigating towards goals, it has much to offer to leaders and leadership theory. In this article, I share my personal account of the ASC Global Conversations Conference as someone newly introduced to cybernetics and how it is influencing my development as a transformative leader.


Cybernetic exchanges in online events: Seven types of conversation in the ASC2020 Global Conversation


As the first large online event of the American Society for Cybernetics, the ‘ASC2020 Global Conversation’ offered an opportunity to develop new online types of cybernetic conversations on cybernetics, in cybernetic formats. This article discusses the design decisions that led to a particular organizational structure of the event, and observations on how the event unfolded from this organizational structure. Based on observations made throughout the event as well as its preparation stage, the article maps seven different types of conversations taking place before and during the event and discusses opportunities and constraints encountered in relation to each identified type. As online conferences have proliferated exponentially due to the impact of COVID-19, this article aims to contribute a cybernetic perspective to the broader discourse on scholarly international exchange in online media, and offers a new perspective on how such conversations might be designed in a cybernetic manner.


On globes, the Earth and the Cybernetics of Grace


The article presents an enquiry into conceptions of ‘global’ that began at the American Society for Cybernetics 2020 Global Conversation conference. Following the traces of Margaret Mead’s statement that emphasized that the first photographic images of the Earth from space presented notions of fragility, the article contextualizes the recent critique of the dominant representation of the Earth as a globe that emerged in conjunction with the discourse on the Anthropocene. It analyses the globe as an image and the sentiments that accompanied it since the first photographs of our planet from space were published in 1968. The article outlines how the cultural meaning of the whole Earth representation changed in parallel with the appropriation of the image by the large technological enterprises that emerged from America’s counterculture. It returns to the possibility of a coexistence of ‘views from within’ and ‘views from without’ following a detour with Gregory Bateson via Bali and proposes a Cybernetics of Grace as a practice of resistance against pure exteriority. The article concludes by linking the Cybernetics of Grace with the second-order conversations of Gordon Pask.


Rethinking cybernetics with a transfunctional approach to structure and organization


This article develops further a proposal for conversation at the ASC 2020 Global Conversation event, motivated by exchange of e-mails with Ranulph Glanville in 2007. Drawing from the questions raised by Glanville and myself, this article addresses the concept of autopoiesis and the possibility of revisiting the concepts of structure and organization, which are discussed with an example of a transfunctional interface (structure) designed to invite people to configure unpredictable organizations. It examines the correspondence between structure and organization and opens new questions to rethink cybernetics in the realm of relations.


Integrating parallel conversations in an institutionalized society: Experiments with Team Syntegrity online


For the philosopher Ivan Illich, society became a set of systems rather than a group of people. As such, society depersonalizes life and brings the need for open nonsystematized spaces where people can act and interact outside their typical roles. On the other hand, an absence of formal structures may simply open spaces for the informal reproduction of society’s already well-established structures. Given this conjuncture, can systems be designed to foster personal expression? The answer I found in cybernetics is self-organization, a process of adaptation to a context that can grow different organizations depending on what this context provides. This implies that personal expression is a concern in society’s emergent organizations, calling for meta planning to design the context of some of society’s self-organization processes. The cybernetician Gordon Pask argued that depersonalization follows from non-conversational communications, like the ones that develop in large committees. In response, Pask’s fellow cybernetician Stafford Beer proposed a meeting protocol called Team Syntegrity allowing large groups to subdivide into small integrated discussion groups. While Beer’s work has been extensively discussed in existent literature, this article presents the results of four experiments conducted by using variations of Beer’s protocol to understand both the ease with which it can be adapted to different situations, and the implications of its conversational structure on personal expression. The experiment’s realization demonstrates that the protocol’s preparation is laborious and hard to adapt in a timely manner in situations where participant numbers fluctuate. Automation of these processes, however, offers possibilities to use the approach in loosely organized groups. Automation can also help choosing the most appropriate protocol for particular situations through the manipulation of its configuration. Despite difficulties, the protocol offers promise for different purposes, encouraging personal expression in a way that reverberates with others’ personal perspectives.


From network to lacework: A new imaginary for global conversation


This article departs from the consideration that global communication is not only a reality but also a challenge. This is because most of our communication does not involve dialogue but remains mere communication without achieving the creativity implied in true conversation. Departing from Gordon Pask’s warning, in 1980, that too much togetherness would be hazardous in future information environments, this article proposes a playful displacement of images – from network to lacework. The aim is to help us refine our gaze into the interconnectedness of the world, or at least, into the intricacies of our contemporary culture and its global communication. The idea is that by using lace as an inspirational image we may go beyond the hazards of uniformity and triviality of our excessive togetherness. By doing so, we would allow space for a variety of local patterns of dialogues, articulated around unspoken tensions and thus, allowing the emergency of genuine conversation.


Garbo and cenacoli of Italian design in the 1960s: A second-order approach to innovation


After the Second World War, Italy experienced an economic miracle accompanied by the emergence of a material culture highly dense with meaning. This article adopts a second-order approach, which focuses on two concepts that emphasize the component of invention contained within the innovation process. Garbo indicates the peculiarly Italian way of solving a constrained optimization problem in the design of everyday objects. Meanwhile, the concept of cenacolo – whose etymological roots indicate conviviality and good living – made possible the study of the peculiar social networks of the Milanese cultural landscape during the 1960s, which enabled important cross-fertilizations between industry, culture and art. To demonstrate the connections between invention and garbo and cenacoli, the examples of Olivetti (key player in then-nascent personal computer technology) and Bialetti (producer of the Moka coffee machine) are used as case studies of innovative solutions to constrained problems. Following an outline of elements promoting the success of each, the article identifies historically determined mechanisms, which enable us to imagine and (potentially) establish the evolutionary conditions for new pathways of invention.


Elliptical conversation: Alchemy and cybernetics


This article presents and discusses alchemy and cybernetics as fields in interaction through a conversation model. The starting point for establishing this relationship is the distinction between communication and conversation as pointed out by authors such as Gordon Pask, Ranulph Glanville and Vilém Flusser. Alchemy was the field of knowledge that best managed to unify Europe’s technological, philosophical and mystical world-view in the late Middle Ages. From an experimental basis, alchemy dealt with the transformation processes mirrored both in a particular understanding of the dynamics of nature as in the connection between man and universe. Cybernetics, like alchemy, was a field developed from an interdisciplinary view of knowledge associated with a particular historical context, being, since its origin, the field that relates and operationalizes complexity and unpredictability in mechanical, biological and social systems. Cybernetics and alchemy are, from a constructivist perspective, models for structuring the world and collective systems of communication within cultural processes. Both are taken here as co-participants in an elliptical dialogue based on three main concepts: distinction, dialogue and emergence. The elliptical conversation model can be understood as a map of the complexity of the interactive field that is established between alchemy and cybernetics, generating a new entity while encapsulating two others, it is the distinction that accommodates two others, a dialogue between black boxes.


Cybernetics as disciplinary cross-pollination: Anthropology by data science


This article employs a cybernetic approach to explore the scope of what constitutes anthropological and ethnographic research and the potential to utilize data science techniques to broaden what constitutes ethnography. Four types of relationships anthropologists historically have tended to seek out with data science as a discipline: anthropology of data science, anthropology over data science, anthropology with data science and, the least developed of the four, anthropology by data science. I relate potential insights data scientists have cultivated on abductive, bottom-up quantitative research that might be useful for anthropologists in particular and cybernetically minded thinkers in general. Grounded Nick Seaver’s concept of bastard disciplines and methodologies, an anthropology by data science relationship provides a beneficial way to ground such strategic incorporations within anthropological research and helpful food for thought for cybernetic scholars in other disciplinary contexts.


Reflections on reflexivity


This article is a meditation on the theme that language in its ability to discuss and refer is naturally self-referential. This theme is a key to cybernetics. The ideas in this article are extensions of the author’s prior work: Kauffman (2009, 2012a, 2012b, 2015).


Cybernetics, design and regenerative economics


With unbridled exponential economic growth, earth systems and social systems are headed for catastrophic meltdown. Meanwhile, much of humanity is highly dependent on current institutions. Second-order cybernetics can help society come to grips with the enormous demand of adapting existing institutions for a regenerative economy. While the current trajectory of increasing consumption and rapid ecological decay will lead to collapse, the progress achieved by civilization can be vindicated by large-scale investment in regenerating natural capital assets, developing open-source technologies for the public good, and rebuilding local agricultural economies dedicated to health and well-being. It is recommended that regenerative practices are supported by academic institutions centered on placebased service-learning. A regenerative economy, in contrast to a growth economy, is part of the pursuit of the long-term establishment of a steady-state economy. This vision does not limit the possibility that humanity will make outstanding technological progress, explore space or merge with artificial intelligence – but argues that appreciating the nature’s technology provided to humanity through eons evolution, and avoiding short-term self-destruction should be priorities.


Death risk: Lack of movement: The ignored pandemic of digitalization escalates the COVID-19 crisis


Data analysis from diverse medical fields suggests that we have reached a tipping point in the digitalization dynamic through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, leading to an escalation of physical inactivity and related diseases. The lack of prioritization of physical activity designed to intervene against obesity, diabetes, loneliness, depression, anxiety disorders and suicide risk could destabilize our current global health system beyond rehabilitation. To counteract this, the author outlines the basis for a sustainable solution to best integrate physical activity into work, daily life and education. In addition, he highlights the potential benefits of combining exercise training with microdosing of psilocybin or of active ingredient essences of psilocybin-containing mushrooms. The article also shows that the integration of mindfulness-based practice and neuroplastic movement practice is a necessity and a competitive advantage for the future.


A systemic view on sustainable consumption


Sustainable product-service system (PSS) has potentiality to reduce the environmental stress through dematerialization of economy based on function-based wellbeing. PSS (also called as service) is a type of human-activity system with a series of events and is produced only after the demand from a consumer. The features of the events influence the consumer to act rationally according to the particular situations. Consumers must have freedom to choose a combination of relieving and enabling model of PSS to act rationally upon those according to the feature of events and the consumers have reasons to value their selection of services. A case of a complete journey of a passenger with urban mobility services is considered to visualize and realize the rational behaviour, which shows a systemic pattern and also autopoietic in nature.



Like real friends do: Communicating on social media with Sophia the robot


Human–robot interaction (HRI) is the study focused on the relationship between humans and robots. HRI as a study combines elements from different fields such as computer science, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, psychology and sociology. With the advancement in the field of AI, HRI showed greater improvements and now, we have the first robot recognized as a citizen of a country: Sophia the robot. Sophia is a robot that has a humanoid form, first made her appearance in 2016 and, according to her creators, is a mix of technology, arts and robotics. Since then, Sophia has made a lot of appearances in different TV shows, given interviews and participated in commercials. Sophia also has her own social media accounts. Our study focuses on Sophia’s presence on social media and the ways she communicates with people and the rhetorics she makes use of. Hence, it studies the advances on HRI and the issues encountered in the field of communication. For our research, we used purposive sampling and content analysis in cases needed in order to study Sophia’s communication patterns and behaviour. At this point, we will delve into the communication with the AI aspect of HRI.


Deconstructing the isolated astronaut-artist paradigm


In the context of a viral outbreak and necessary physical distancing, the emergence of new or the evolution of older artistic behavioural schemes becomes evident. We correlate the isolation space of the artist with the cockpit of a spaceship and the navigation and communication interfaces used by an astronaut. The cybernetic domain between physical space(s) and artist(s) can be thought of as consisting of many ‘organs’. It includes a core (black box), many-layered limits: skin, walls, mental and digital borders as well as mechanisms of connectivity with external entities (other astronauts in art spaceships). This space could be a bedroom, a studio, an office or any different location the artist uses as an isolated bubble of information sharing and manipulation (material and immaterial). For the construction of such an (astronaut, artist) ontology we use metaphors, etymological references, transformed concepts and creative analogies between the actual and the subjective space. As one case study for this paradigm, we experimented with a telematic performance of Heiner Müller’s Hamlet Machine titled, I want to be 171.


The edge of life-as-we-know it: Aesthetics of decay within artificial life and art


This article advocates further examination of the role decay aesthetics can play in artificial life (ALife or AL) and art. Opening with the poetics of decay and the shadow that decay taboo has cast in western culture, firstly, we reframe decay as a constructive process of transformation. Secondly, we perform a brief historical survey of early artistic developments in the field of ALife, assessing how these early works addressed decay. We follow with a deeper analysis of contemporary artists through a lens of decay and decomposition, identifying new tendencies of ALife art (deep time simulation, slime intelligence, molecular agents, techno resurrection and ecohybridized computation). Finally, we look to the peripheries of ALife to see how decay is rendered in current technical research and examine these projects with an eye for turbulent production in the form of ‘decaying’ matter. We conclude with a number of open questions on decomposition and decay aesthetics, both within the artistic and technical realms of ALife.


Entangled Speech: Semiotic sympoiesis for the posthuman commons


In our performance Entangled Speech, we connect the integration of microbial agency into a new complex ‘common good’ with the shared values of language. Drawing on a posthuman commons we aim for a hybrid language that not only processes formal symbols but also interacts with the microbes in the speaker’s mouth. We argue that the metaphors historically used to frame the relationship between microbiomes and speech cannot account for the co-creative material relationship between human speech and posthuman microbial, environmental and biotechnological needs. In our performances, first we harvest sensitized microbes from a speaker’s mouth who had repeated those phonemes, which lead to a deviation of pH of saliva. This makes the microbes sensitive for the further processing: via a spectrogram, phonemes repetitively spoken by the audience drive pumps, which add pheromones to the microbes, the pheromones, which then are faded out. In the microbes, for some replication cycles, an ecological adaptation to the individual phonemes persists, which – in our definition – affirms some phonemes as ecological and others to be deleted, thereby changing the alphabetical order of the input word. Although parts of the process are digitally animated, the major parts develop in real time. We propose ‘microbial speech’ as a category beyond semantic meaning, with ecological qualities such as a transcorporeal mattering between words and the body. We aim at a language becoming a biological state in order to protect its own ecology. We propose a more entangled mode of microbes existing in common with language, affirming posthumanist transversal relations of all living and non-living matter.

This page displays a table of contents and abstracts published in the journal Technoetic Arts. Please refer to the original publication available in print from Intellect. Digital copies of the articles are available from Intellect Discover.

Technoetic Arts is included in EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete and Art and Architecture Complete collections. Researchers affiliated with universities will have access to all article PDFs via their library’s EBSCO subscription. This Global Conversation Special Issue is logged with volume 19 of 2021 on EBSCOhost.

Volume 19 Numbers 1 & 2, © 2021 Intellect Ltd.

||| Founding Editor: Roy Ascott Guest Editors for issue 19.1-2: Christiane M. Herr and Jocelyn Chapman Editorial Organism: Tom Ascott, John Bardakos, Dalila Honorato, Hu Yong, Claudia Jacques, Claudia Westermann Production Manager: Faith Newcombe

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