Annual Conference CybCon 2009

The Conference will be held on Saturday 12th September 2009
S3.05 Lindell Hart Seminar Room, on the third floor, King's College, 152-170 Strand, London WC2R 1ES


9.30     Registration

10.00 "Complexity from Simplicity: the Nature of Light and Matter" Dr. John Williamson, Glasgow University.

10.45 "In the Beginning was the Turtle" Artemis Papert

11.30 Break

11.45 "Observation Operators Revisited" Prof. Robert Vallée, President of WOSC

12.30 "Strong AI, Continuity and Evolution" Dr. Alex Andrew, Director General of WOSC

1.15 Lunch at Caffe Amici

2.30 "Cybernetics as Science of Decision-making" Dr. Helmut Nechansky, Consultant in Systems Engineering, Vienna

3.15 "A Tour of European Historical Robots and Cybernetic Art" David Buckley, Founder of Foundation Robotics

4.00 Break

4.15 "Science and Design of Systems" Dr. Janos Korn, Middlesex University

5.00 "The Frankenstein Monster" Jasia Reichardt, Creator of the Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition and author of “Robots-Fact, Fiction and Prediction”

5.45 Further questions for any speaker.

Finish at 6.30 to be followed by dinner at 7.30pm at Salieri's, Strand.

Cybernetics Society members, staff, students and alumni of King's College are admitted free of charge. Non-members may apply to join at the conference. The membership fee for the three months to the end of the year is £5. The student membership fee for the three months is £2.50. Any applicants not subsequently approved for membership by the Council will have their fees refunded in full.

To apply for membership of the Cybernetics Society follow this link

Conference Contact.

Abstracts and supporting media received

"Complexity from simplicity: the nature of light and matter"

Dr. John Williamson writes:

It is well known that matter can be created from pure energy. In particle physics experiments this has become routine enough that it is now largely taken for granted. Despite this just quite how energy, a simple form, becomes enfolded into the complexity of matter and how then these complex forms interact amongst each other is still less than wholly clear.

A new basis for physics is proposed which provides a possible route by which certain aspects of this may be understood. Starting from the simple and continuous, topological soliton solutions are proposed as quantised matter. A new class of solutions to electromagnetism corresponding more closely than the usual forms to quantised photons, will also be explored.

Related media: "On the nature of the electron" (from CybCon08) video of the talk (43 mins, 125 MB).

Foils from (CybCon08) presentation in .pdf document.

Download the foundation paper "Is the electron a photon with a toroidal topology?" Williamson and van der Mark, Annales de la Fondation Louis de Broglie, Volume 22, no.2, 133 (1997).

Draft paper on new theory "electremdense2008v4.pdf" for Kybernetes.


"In the beginning was the Turtle"

Artemis Papert writes:

Around 40 years ago Seymour Papert invented the now famous Logo Turtle. That point in the 60s was the middle of a history rather that the beginning. Twenty years earlier was the wonderful Grey Walter Turtle. In the 70's the Logo screen Turtle appeared, jumping from the floor to the computer screen. Most recently the Turtle found its way into TurtleArt.

This talk will describe this history, demonstrate the art, math, and programming of TurtleArt, and touch on some of the ways the Turtle has influenced our lives and learning.

TurtleArt website. Turtle Graphics at Wikipedia. Turtle Art in the Sugar environment, originally developed for the One Laptop per Child Project.

" 'Observation operators' revisited"

Professor Robert Vallée writes:

We consider a macroscopic dynamical system S able to perceive the evolution of its environment and itself, and so the evolution of the state of the “universe”, described by function x. The evolution of its perceptions is given by function y and we have y = O(x). We call O the “observation operator” (Vallée 1951). It acts only on the past and present of x. When x and y belong to linear spaces X and Y = O(X), operators O may be linear (Volterra composition) with two extreme cases y(t) = A(t) and y(t) = ∫Z(t-s) x(s) ds (convolution with Z(t-s) null for s>t). When A(t) is a mere scalar we may have a factor of attention or a time window. If Z is a scalar we have a frequency filter, If Z(t-s) = δ(t-s) we have a time lag operator.

The concept of observation operator gives a description of “epistemological indiscernibility” which happens when O has no inverse, in such a case we may have O(x') = O(x) with x'≠ x. The “resolving power” of the observation operator O may be defined by the set of all the equivalence classes x* of O (all the elements of x* give the same perception y).

When we have a mapping f of the set A on set B, and a structure on B, there is a classical process to obtain on A an induced structure involving the reciprocal image mapping f-1 which exists even when the inverse mapping does not. Léon Motchane (1958) gave an interpretation of this process in the field of measurement. We integrated it in the framework of our dynamical formalism of observation operators. For example if Y = O(X) is structured by a binary relation R, a corresponding binary relation T is induced on X, defined by xTx' meaning that O(x) R O(x'). So x and x' are subjectively perceived by S as related by T when their images are related by R. It is very natural because the only relations S can know are those in Y. We call this situation “epistemological transfer of structure” (Vallée 1974, rediscovered by Robert Rosen 1978). Analogous remarks may be made about the transfer of topology or measure.

If we suppose that system S is also able to decide, we must have a process of decision described by a decision operator D (in a first approach acting automatically). So if x generates y = O(x), y will generates z = D(y) = P(x), P being what we call “pragmatic operator” (Vallée 1974). The properties of P are identical to those of O (“pragmatic indicernibility”, “pragmatic inverse transfer”). Function z gives the evolution of decisions taken by system S, it is, as well as y, a description of the way S perceives the universe: description by decision taken instead of by direct perceptions felt. We call this way of seeing epistemology “epistemo-praxiology” (Vallée 1987).

"Strong AI, Continuity and Evolution"

Dr Alex Andrew writes:

The "strong-AI" position has been epitomized in a claim that there is no essential difference, except complexity, between a room thermostat "knowing" that a room is warm or cold, and a person making the same discrimination. The position will be defended, though with admission of vagueness arising from a qualifier such as “essential”.

Nevertheless it is widely acknowledged (even by Marvin Minsky) that results from the AI effort up to now are disappointing, and reasons will be discussed. One is of course simply the brain's extreme complexity and versatility, but particular attention will be paid to the part played by continuous processing in mentation, as treated in the speaker's recent book (A Missing Link in Cybernetics: Logic and Continuity, Springer 2009). Relevance of the principles to biological evolution will be discussed.

"Cybernetics as Science of Decision-making"

Dr Helmut Nechansky writes:

Control results from the interaction of two systems, a controller and a controlled system. And the main internal activity of a controller is to make a decision for a certain action. If such a decision actually leads to control, is a question of the external interaction of the selected action of the controller with the controlled system. Therefore cybernetics has to deal, too, with the question, what kind of decisions a controller has to make, so that control can take place.

The detailed argumentation to illustrate that starts with an analysis of the structure of a feedback system and the decisions this structure enables. From that the following main hypothesis are derived:

  1. The structure of a feedback system is the minimal structure for decision-making and is the first approximation for any decision-making structure. More complex controller structures are needed to make more complex decisions.
  2. A feedback system can make an elementary decision following the form: "If {(data) (relation) (goal-value)}, then {trigger for a goal-orientated action}". More complex decisions follow the same form, but may contain any number of terms "(data) (relation) (goal-value)".

Then it is shown in a few examples how feedback systems can be enlarged. E.g. a second sensor can be added with a few changes to the structure. Based on that further additions can enable recognition of changes in space or in time. These examples illustrate both hypotheses, how more complex controller structures enable certain complex decisions.

As an application of these steps the controller structures necessary for Miller's living systems and for Beer's viable systems are analyzed and presented in one comparable scheme. That enables to show the relationship between Miller’s and Beer’s theory, which had not been explained previously.

Finally an outlook is given on forthcoming work, how this approach can be used to surface the cybernetic necessities of increasingly complex structures, like adaptive systems, learning systems, etc. and the decisions made by such systems.

So the paper seeks to forward an understanding of cybernetics as a science of structures that enable certain decisions. It is suggested, that making explicit this aspect of decision-making gives cybernetics an additional relevance for social sciences, like psychology, organization theory and sociology.

Papers supporting Cybernetics of Decisions

"A Tour of European Historical Robots and Cybernetic Art"

Martin Smith writes:

David Buckley recently returned from a five week European tour of museums, institutes and collections of robots, automata and cybernetic art works. His tour took in the Burden Neurological Institute where W. Grey Walter developed the first turtles. He photographed and video recorded many items in places including Berlin and Leipzig. His illustrated talk will describe and place in context what he saw and learned on his "pilgrimage".

"Science and Design of Systems"

Martin Smith writes:

Science describes the world in terms of phenomena classified according to shared properties, which are used to create mathematical relations that translate notions into refutable relationships by exposing them to the test of experience. There is another view of the world, the view of related objects, the 'systemic view'. The aim of this research is to show how to convert the systemic view into systems science using the scientific method to model objects (natural, technical, living, human etc) and their activities. Having identified the fundamental notions, by means of energy or information flow, they are organised into inferential structures using mathematics of 'ordered pairs' and predicate logic statements. These structures enable energy and information to propagate, to produce an outcome.

"Frankenstein Again"

Jasia Reichardt writes:

The Frankenstein Monster: 200 years old and still relevant. Whether made out of meat, plastic, electronic components or on the internet, the generation of new beings gives us more problems than we can solve.


The Archbishop of Canterbury had an idea...

About our speakers

picture of John Williamson

Dr. John G. Williamson is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electronics & Electrical Engineering at the University of Glasgow. He worked previously at CERN, Geneva and at the Advanced Theoretical and Experimental Physics Group at Philips Research Labs, Eindhoven. Dr. Williamson has co- authored just under a hundred scientific papers in the fields of High energy Physics, Solid State Physics and Electronics. His research interests include the mathematical structure of space time, extended electromagnetism, Quantum Electrodynamics, Relativistic and Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Special and General Relativity.

picture of Artemis Papert

Dr. Artemis Papert has an MSc and PhD in biology. After a first career as a research biologist she developed a form of computer art, "Turtle Art" based on Turtle Graphics. Turtle Graphics were added to the Logo programming language by Seymour Papert in the late 60s. He used a simple mobile robot, called a turtle, controlled from a personal computer to draw geometric lines using a pen mounted on the robot. Artemis, Papert's daughter, has been using turtle graphics to create a new kind of computer art which forms striking combinations of randomness and structure to produce beautiful images including fractals. She has a special interest in body and mind interactions and is currently training to become a Jungian psychoanalyst.

picture of Robert Vallee

Professor Robert Vallée is President of WOSC (the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics), Président d'Honneur of AFSCET (the French Society for Cybernetics and Systems), Docteur des sciences (mathematics; general relativity) at the Université Paris. He was awarded the Norbert Wiener Memorial Gold Medal in 1990. His publications include the book: -Cognition et système. Essai d'épistémo-praxéologie', and he has published papers on cybernetics and systems in Progress in Cybernetics and Systems, Kybernetes, Cybernetics and Systems Research, and Cybernetics and Human Knowing.

picture of Alex Andrew

Alex Andrew graduated in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University, Scotland, then joined the Departments of Physiology and Psychological Medicine there. Part of this time was spent on leave of absence with Warren McCulloch’s group in MIT. Work in Glasgow was largely on electronic instrumentation for neurophysiology, and also on neurophysiology as such, and in MIT was on the visual system of the frog. He then worked on machine learning at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, England, and gave a paper at the first IFAC Congress, Moscow 1960. He later joined the management consultancy firm SIGMA, managed by Stafford Beer, for 2 years, followed by a year in Heinz von Foerster’s group in the University of Illinois, and was then a member of the Department of Cybernetics in the University of Reading, England, until he took early retirement in 1982 and joined with his wife Joyce in commercial activity. The academic year 1987-88 was spent in the University of the Aegean, Izmir, Turkey, teaching Artificial Intelligence.

A paper written in 1965, while with Heinz von Foerster’s group, introduced a principle of “significance feedback” of which one version is equivalent to the “backpropagation of error” that came later and is the basis of most work on artificial neural nets in recent decades. The place of continuity in the operation of intelligent systems, real or artificial, has been a primary interest arising from consideration of machine learning.

picture of Helmut Nechansky

Helmut Nechansky, MBA Dipl.-Ing. Dr., is a self-employed consulting engineer based in Vienna, Austria. He is specialized in the optimization of complex production plants, applying methods of systems engineering, soft computing and quality control. Additionally he is involved in developing optimal organizational solutions for production processes. His research interests include decision making, model building and optimal control for all levels of organizations. He is engaged in basic research to identify mutual cybernetic determinants of technical, individual, and organizational control.


picture of David Buckley

David Buckley has been designing robots and electro-mechanical special effects for education, hobbyists, exhibitions, theatres, museums and presentations since the early 1980s. He was Consultant Editor for the magazines "Your Spectrum" and "Practical Robotics". He has written numerous articles on robotics including sessions for "The Open Tech" Foundation Courses. He designed and built the Cycler robots for the environmental charity Wastewatch. These robots have done thousands of presentations to millions of children over the whole of the UK. He has an extensive knowledge of the history of robots and automata from around the world.

picture of Janos Korn

Dr. Janos Korn obtained BSc (Eng), and PhD after coming to the UK in 1956 following the Hungarian uprising. He has worked in industry and teaching. His research concerns the development of: a multidisciplinary network theory of engineering systems, a comprehensive approach to design, and development of a systems theory inclusive of human activity. He has 125 publications in the field including his recent book "Science and Design of Systems".

picture of Jasia Reichardt

Jasia Reichardt has been Assistant Director of the ICA in London and Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery. She has taught at the Architectural Association and other colleges. She organised the exhibition, Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968. She has written several books, including The Computer in Art, and Robots - Fact, Fiction and Prediction. She edited Cybernetics, Art and Ideas. She also worked on Fantasia Mathematica a visualisation of mathematics project. She was one of the directors of ARTEC (art and technology) biennale in Japan. She staged the exhibition Electronically Yours, on electronic portraiture, at the Tokyo Museum of Photography.

Nick Wadley, former Head of Art History at Chelsea School of Art, opened the Conference on her behalf.





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.

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.