The field of cybernetics originated in the Macy Foundation conferences held in New York City between 1946 and 1953. Chaired by Warren McCulloch, the participants included Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Ross Ashby, and Heinz von Foerster. Von Foerster established the Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) at the University of Illinois in 1958. He served as director until 1975 when he retired and moved to California. The laboratory was then closed. The research agenda of BCL was very similar to the field now known as cognitive science. However, few people in cognitive studies in the U.S. are familiar with von Foerster or the work done at BCL. Meanwhile a Heinz von Foerster Society has been established in his home city of Vienna, Austria, and several books have been written describing BCL as an example of a highly productive research team. The work conducted at BCL continues to inspire leading edge research 30 years after it closed. This panel will discuss the ideas developed at BCL in the 1960s and 1970s, how they were generated, why they have received more attention in Europe than the U.S., and how they are currently being developed. Stuart Umpleby will chair the panel on BCL.
List of Papers:
Young BCL: 1961-1965 Its Research Environment and Complexity Studies
Crayton C. Walker, University of Connecticut, Storrs Mansfield, CT, USA
Crayton Walker, Professor Emeritus of Operations and Information Management at the University of Connecticut, will discuss what it was like doing research in BCL’s unusual intellectual climate. He will describe his early work at BCL with Ross Ashby studying complex systems.
Comments on Ashby’s Cybernetics
Klaus Krippendorff, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Klaus Krippendorff, Gregory Bateson Term Professor for Cybernetics,
Language, and Culture at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School
for Communication, will reflect on W. Ross Ashby's role in the development
of cybernetics as distinct from systems science, his vision of the field and
his role in BCL.
Form and Content
Ranulph Glanville, Portsmouth, England
Ranulph Glanville, incoming president of ASC and a consultant to academic institutions, will describe how the subject of research at BCL – circularity and conversation – influenced the operating style of BCL.
Winner Take All: Some Thoughts Why Cybernetics Lost, and Cognitive Science Won
Karl H. Mueller, Institute for Social Documentation and Methodology, Vienna, Austria
Karl Mueller, director of the Vienna Institute for Social Documentation and Methodology, a social science data archive, will speak about the contributions of BCL to cognitive studies and the social sciences. He is co-editor of An Unfinished Revolution? and other books about Heinz von Foerster. He is co-founder of the Heinz von Foerster Society.
The Evolution of Cybernetics and Connections to Complex Systems
Stuart A. Umpleby, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
Stuart Umpleby will provide an overview of the systems sciences from the 1940s to the present, comparing several schools of thought and emphasizing cybernetics and complex systems. He will explain the evolution of cybernetics and why the later work in cybernetics is more well-known in Europe than the U.S.
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