31st. Annual Conference


Saturday 16th September 2006 The Council Room, King's College, 152-170 Strand, London WC2R 1ES


9.30     Registration

10.00 "SAM and The Senster: Early Cybernetic Sculptures" Dr. Alex Zivanovic, Mechatronics in Medicine Laboratory, Imperial College London.

10.45 "What is a Symbol?" Dr. Bernard Scott and Dr. Simon Shurville, Electronically Enhanced Learning, Cranfield University.

11.30 "General Systems Science, Cybernetics and Soft Systems." Frank Stowell, Professor of Systems and Information Systems, Department of Information Systems and Computer Applications, University of Portsmouth.

12.15 "The Impact of System Dynamics and Cybernetics on Public Policy" Prof. Michael Kennedy. London South Bank University Head of Department of Accounting and Finance, Faculty of Business, Computing and Information Management.

Professor of Educational Development (Financial Systems)

1.00 Lunch at Caffe Amici

2.30 "Early British Cybernetics and the Ratio Club." Prof. Owen Holland. Department of Computer Science, University of Essex.

3.15 "An AI Based Anti Terrorist Aircraft Screening System" Dr. John Hulbert FBCS, former Chief Superintendent of Hampshire Police and formerly with the US National Institute of Justice and the National Physical Laboratory.

4.00 break

4.15 "What is Life? Negentropy is a Phlogiston-like Idea." Prof. Jack Cohen DSc, Honorary Professor at The Mathematics Institute; Ecology and Epidemiology Group; Warwick University.

5.00 "Ross Ashby: His Life, Work and Digital Archive." Mick Ashby. Archivist of the Ross Ashby collection.

5.45 Further questions for any speaker.

Finish at 6.30 to be followed by dinner at Salieri's, Strand.

To apply for membership of the Cybernetics Society follow this link

Conference Contact.

Abstracts Received

"SAM and The Senster: Early Cybernetic Sculptures"

Dr. Alex Zivanovic writes:

Edward Ihnatowicz was an artist active in the UK the 1960s and 1970s. He was particularly interested in creating cybernetic sculptures which reacted to the people around them. His first work was SAM (Sound Activated Mobile), a hydraulically operated construction which turned to face the direction of sounds in its vicinity, under the control of an analogue circuit. It was in operation at the ground-breaking “Cybernetic Serendipity” exhibition in 1968. His major work was The Senster, developed for Philip’s technology showcase, the Evoluon, in Eindhoven, and unveiled in 1970. This was a much larger structure, and reacted to the sound and movement of the visitors around it. It was probably the first robotic sculpture in the world to be controlled by a computer. This talk will describe his work and how he developed and implemented his ideas.

"General Systems Science, Cybernetics and Soft Systems"

Prof. Frank Stowell writes:

Central to the systems epistemology is the notion of ‘wholeness’ which unites all areas of systems thinking. By thinking in terms of ‘wholes’ we are able to place a kind of structure on the complex world around us. This structure is one which is governed by the principles of ‘wholes’ or ‘systems’. We can use this structure to help us organise our thoughts and to provide us with an analytical approach to exploring and finding out about the world; by using the concept of a ‘whole’ we can concentrate upon a selected part of our ‘whole’ or ‘system’. Systems theory, influenced by the founding fathers was dominated by biological and mathematical models which were useful in making sense of the world. These models are based on the notion of a world that exists for us all and our task it to explain and replicate it in some way. In the late 1970’s Systems Thinking and Practice in the UK moved in a new direction. Systems Research at the University of Lancaster, under the guidance of Peter Checkland, became more contemplative about the nature of our world and how each of us makes sense of it. No longer would Systems be based on biological models but a greater emphasis was placed upon understanding and learning. Systems thinking now made explicit that, what comprises the whole, is subjective but rigorous. This paper focuses upon the lessons learnt from the research and the practical applications of soft systems that are the result of more than 30 years of action research. The paper deals with some of the methodological complexities of interpretivist research, criticisms about soft systems and rigour, and the practical problems of using ideas in a sceptical, reductionist, educated society.

"What is Life? Negentropy is a Phlogiston-like Idea"

Professor Cohen writes:

This talk is, hopefully, a mind-changer. In 1942 Schrodinger published What is Life? against a background of an entropic universe running down to a Heat Death. Life was an anomaly, feeding on “negentropy”. In 2004 three physicist/astronomers gave a presentation “Life out there?” at the Cheltenham Science Festival and they also viewed life as anomalous in a physical universe. However, by replacing the central Boltzmann paradigm with a more realistically cosmic one including gravity, Ian Stewart has shown that an opposite view is equally tenable i.e. the universe evolves progressively more order, so that life – and indeed perhaps intelligence (including cyberneticists) can be seen as a natural part of its evolution. This cosmology underpins Kauffman’s philosophy exemplified in At Home in the Universe and Investigations. It is much more cheerful, too.

"Ross Ashby: His Life, Work, and Digital Archive"

Mick Ashby writes:

Ross Ashby was the author of Design for a Brain (1952) and An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956). This presentation, given by one of Ross Ashby's eight grandchildren, provides an overview of his life and work. It also includes a demonstration of the W.Ross Ashby Digital Archive, which will be made available on the Internet later this year.

"An AI Based Anti Terrorist Aircraft Screening System"

Dr Hulbert writes:

This paper describes a prototype Anti-Terrorist Aircraft Screening System (ATASS). ATASS was an information rich approach to transport safety and introduced the initiative of additive security certification. The paper describes the overall methodology and reviews whether some of the concepts and modules explored by a group of academics and security practitioners in the mid 1980’s are still relevant in today's environment.

About our speakers

Dr. Alex Zivanovic, Postdoctoral Research Associate Imperial College, London. PhD Mechanical Engineering (A haptic robot to take blood samples from the forearm). Now developing a haptic training system for knee arthroscopy, and working on MRI compatible manipulators. Interests in a wide range of applications of robotics and, in particular, the creative use of robots, especially as cybernetic sculptures.

Web page

Dr. Bernard Scott Senior Lecturer in Electronically-Enhanced Learning, Cranfield University, Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, Wilts. Director of the On-Line Learning Knowledge Garden website project in collaboration with UHI, Salford and De Montfort Universities

Web page

Frank Stowell is Professor of Systems and Information Systems at the University of Portsmouth, England. He has a PhD in organisational change and expertise in Systems Thinking and Practice. He has published papers and texts in the field and presented papers at a number of international conferences in Europe and the United States. He is co-chair of the Systems Practice for Managing Complexity project, chair of the committee of Professors and Heads of Information Systems and past President of the Academy of Information Systems and a board member for 9 years. He is the immediate past President of the UK Systems Society and now responsible for external affairs. His area of interest is in the application of Systems ideas to the development of IT supported information systems. His research is in the development of ways in which the client can lead and control the development of their Information System.

Web page

Prof. Owen Holland, Deputy Head of the Department of Computer Science, University of Essex. Teaches Biologically Inspired Robotics. Writing a history of early British Cybernetics, based on the Ratio Club, a cybernetic dining club which met from 1949 - 1955, and which included in its membership Grey Walter, Alan Turing, Ross Ashby, and other key figures of the period. The eventual output will be a book, probably in 2006. Particularly interested in Grey Walter's robot tortoises and other cybernetic artefacts.

Web page

Mick Ashby studied Computer and Microprocessor Systems at the University of Essex, Colchester, England. He started worked for ITT, Engineering Support Center, Knowledge-Based Systems Group, in Harlow, England and then transferred to Alcatel Software Research Center, in Stuttgart, Germany. For the last 10 years he has worked at the IBM, Development Lab, in Böblingen, Germany.

Ashby Archive Website

Prof. Michael Kennedy. London South Bank University London South Bank University Head of Department of Accounting and Finance, Faculty of Business, Computing and Information Management. Special interest in simulation modelling, the investment appraisal of Information Systems, financial management and corporate planning.

Web page

Dr. John Hulbert

John Hulbert is a former Chief Superintendent of Devon & Cornwall Police. There he designed and implemented many of the early Police IT systems including Criminal Intelligence, Command and Control computer and communications networks. His research then embraced introducing some of the first AI Burglary profiling systems into the UK and US police forces and the outline design of a prototype Anti-Terrorist Screening Systems (ATASS). At various times he was seconded to the National Physical Laboratory, UK Military and the US National Institute of Justice. John has a MSc in Applied Psychology and a PhD in Computing and Cognitive Science. He is a Fellow of the British Computer Society and a Chartered Psychologist.

More recently Dr. Hulbert was joint author and a consultant manager of the EU's Programme on 'Information Engineering' and co-author of the accession report on the Business, IT and Educational capability of the ten enlargement countries of Eastern Europe. He was involved in some of the EU's first Internet developments. His current interests include knowledge structures for supporting commercial innovation and development; and the psychology of finance especially related to 'crowd like' behaviour.

Web page

Prof Jack Cohen

Jack Cohen was reproductive biologist in the Zoology Dept at Birmingham University for some thirty years, later in the Warwick Mathematics Institute for five - he denies being a mathematician, despite having been made an Honorary Professor in that Institute. The latest of about 120 research papers is “Sex, diploidy and the human Y chromosome” (Systematics and Biodiversity 2 1-7). His books include The Collapse of Chaos and Figments of Reality: the evolution of the curious mind with Ian Stewart, Stop Working and Start Thinking: how to become a scientist with Graham Medley, and the three Science of Discworld books with Ian Stewart and Terry Pratchett.

Web page



King's College street map by Multimap

By Car

Car travellers can park nearby in Surrey Street, Temple Place or Arundel Street at parking meters which are free after 6.30 pm. The congestion charge does not apply after 6.30 pm. Before 6.30 the charge is £8 (if paid before 10 pm). It can be paid by telephone on 0845 900 1234 or on the Congestion Charge website.

By Tube

For Underground train travellers the nearest stations are Temple (500 metres, District and Circle lines), Covent Garden (800 metres, Piccadilly line), Embankment and Charing Cross (800 metres, Northern and Bakerloo lines).

By Bus

Bus travellers may catch the 6, 7, 13, 23, 76, 521 and RV1.

From the King's College Strand main entrance walk through the reception area into the courtyard. Continue into the courtyard for about 20 metres, turn left into the main building entrance. Climb the left hand staircase and turn left along the first floor corridor.

Caffe Amici Salieri

Speakers and delegates are invited to meet on Saturday from nine o'clock for breakfast before the conference Caffe Amici (No1 Kingsway ~150 metres north of King's College Strand main entrance, situated on the corner of Kingsway and Aldwych).

Dinner will be at Salieri Restaurant, 376 Strand (between Southampton Street and Exeter Street) ~300 metres west of King's College. Participants buy their own drinks and food. Cost starts at £14.50 for two courses.

Pictures from the Conference

Click to enlarge