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This page last updated 7th. June 2004

 


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"Religion, Queen of the Sciences: are science and religion inextricably intertwined or inevitably opposed?"

Our President has agreed to be a speaker at the King's College London 175th Anniversary Debate at 16.00 on Saturday 12th June.

Historically an Anglican foundation, King's is now at the cutting edge of science and theology. In the age of DNA, stem cell research and gene therapy this debate will examine the relationship between religion and science. Expert panel members include the Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS, formerly President of Queen's College, Cambridge and Professor of Mathematical Physics, Dr Fraser Watts, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and the Natural Sciences at Cambridge, Dr Stephen Minger Lecturer in Biomolecular Sciences and stem cell researcher at King's College London and Professor Martin Smith, President of the Cybernetics Society and researcher in robotics at the Technology Innovation Centre, University of Central England. The latter two speakers are expected to argue for science from a non-faith standpoint. From the KCL Announcement.

Members may recall that Pask pointed out to cyberneticians in his axioms for Interactions of Actors that Faith was a necessary condition while waiting for a process to halt or an experiment to conclude. Faith is not sufficient to distinguish religious belief.

Lovelock urges more Nuclear Power for less Global Warming

Global warming is now advancing so swiftly that only a massive expansion of nuclear power as the world's main energy source can prevent it overwhelming civilisation warns cybernetician James Lovelock FCybS(hon) in the May 24th Independent

"Nuclear creates enormous problems, waste we don't know what to do with; radioactive emissions; unavoidable risk of accident and terrorist attack." says Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth.

"What makes global warming so serious and so urgent is that the great Earth system, Gaia, is trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback." Lovelock writes in an Independent Editorial.

In the evening on BBC2's "Newsnight" Zac Goldsmith, editor of "The Ecologist" claimed a plane flown into a reactor could render 30% of our (UK) land mass unusable. Lovelock said he didn't agree with his figures

The question of changing cloud cover, for example, in geophysiological homeostasis and the role of dimethyl sulphide (discovered by Lovelock) producing coccolithophores (a type of phytoplankton) in cloud formation is still open to some. Reliance on serial/parallel simulation can be methodologically unsound. Opinions are invited. But the question for us is the same. Is the long moving average of the high fractal dimension (wiggly) line describing temperature monotonically increasing? Or will a new component of the homeostatic mechanism assert? Isn't it time we monitored the North Atlantic Conveyor in Real Time? Also Ice thickness, sea temperature, sea level, cloud cover, phytoplankton, carbon sequestration, air temperature, albedo etc. Instrumentation these days is cheap, light and robust.

In December 2002 John Marburger, the White House science and technology adviser addressing the U.S. Climate Change Science Program three day Conference said "What we are arguing is that we need more information to have a clearly articulated regulatory policy that is practical, that's affordable and doesn't put the economy at risk."

A quick cheap fix that might protect property values in Chelsea, Florida and low lying coastal settlements, currently unthinkable, might come from a touch of "nuclear winter" with the explosion of nuclear weapons to increase atmospheric dust protection from sunlight.

Says Don Fernau on the Newton US Department of Energy discussion board "Another idea I like is to have every one in the world paint their roofs and driveways white. Much easier than the first approach although more complicated because of all the clouds and stuff that would be in the way to mess up your calculation of how much white is needed". We really need convincing numbers on this!

New climate change debate begins The Independent on 25th 2004. No nuclear quick fix Independent Letters from Professor Geoff Hammond Department of Mechanical Engineering University of Bath, Richard Mann Oxford, David Ross London SE5, Fred Witham Alstone, Gloucestershire, James Carnegie Cambridge.

In his May 2002 address to the Royal Society the Prime Minister noted "our tidal rip - if harnessed - could provide ten times our current energy needs".

"New weapon against global warming": Carbon Storage Technology proponents write to the Independent.

"Nuclear power may be the less bad option." Further letters in The Independent support Lovelock, birth control and vegetarianism.

On Learning in Layers- Pathology and Liberation

The Tavistock Clinic, in association with the University of East London, is pleased to announce the Centennial Gregory Bateson Lecture will be given by Professor Mary Catherine Bateson on "Learning in Layers- Pathology and Liberation".

The Lecture will take place in the Lecture Theatre of the Tavistock Centre, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA on Monday 17th May 2004 at 6:00pm and will be followed by a reception

The event is free and everyone is welcome but advance reservations must be made to secure your place.

Our President Martin Smith in "Mutant Machines"

Martin is currently appearing on "Mutant Machines" on satellite (Sky) and cable (Granada Men and Motors). The series of 15 programmes consists of two teams of practical engineers, engineering students etc. who compete to create a mutated machine from two donor machines. Typical challenges include taking two cars and washing machines to make fire engines. The programme is shown on Mondays at 21:00, Tuesdays at 16:00, Saturdays at 21:30 and Sundays at 16:30. Martin is the technical consultant, presenter and judge on all the programmes. The programme has similarities to Scrapheap Challenge.

Micromouse Competition

Martin is organising the next international annual micromouse contest at the Think Tank in Birmingham. The contest is to make a microprocessor controlled robotic vehicle that can navigate a 16x16 maze in the shortest time (which is much shorter time than a real mouse). The contest is designed for final year Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Computer Science degree students. Further details. Simpler classes of competition will be held for schools; including wall followers (as opposed to maze solvers) and white line followers. The contest will be held on Saturday 19th of June and entries are expected from around the world, including the USA.

W. Ross Ashby Centenary Conference

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign March 4-6, 2004

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of W. Ross Ashby (1903-1972), one of the founders of cybernetics and general systems theory, a pioneer in information theory, machine learning and self-organizing systems, and the author of two highly influential books, Design for a Brain (1952) and An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956). Ashby worked as a psychiatrist in Britain for much of his life, but spent some of his most productive years, 1959-1970, as a professor of Electrical Engineering and Biophysics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, affiliated with the Biological Computer Laboratory directed by Heinz von Foerster.

A conference in honor of Ashby's life and work will be held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on March 4-6th, 2004. The sponsoring group is the U of I's Program in Science, Technology, Information and Medicine (STIM) where the program will be continually updated.

The conference will begin on the evening of Thursday, March 4th, with a keynote lecture by Stuart Kauffman, of the Santa Fe Institute. There will be a second keynote lecture by Stephen Wolfram, President of Wolfram Research, on the evening of Friday the 5th. The main body of the conference will consist of a series of invited lectures and panel discussions over the course of Friday and Saturday.

Speakers will include Ashby's former students, historians of science, and leaders in the fields of information and systems theory; topics will range over Ashby's life and work and his legacy in the areas of cybernetics, information flow in complex and dynamic systems, learning, and self-organizing systems. Confirmed speakers are listed below; others will be announced later.

"International Conference on Information Visualisation -IV04"

Ebad Babassi has asked us to promulgate a call for Papers for the forthcoming Conference to be held at London University 14 16 July 2004 at University of London, London, Uk

Contact Ebad at
Visualisation & Graphics Research Unit,
South Bank University,
103 Borough Road, London SE1 0AA. UK.
Tel.: (Int.. +44) 171.815.7476,
Sponsors include:

"The bionic man"

The Clifford Patterson Lecture at the Royal Society was given by Chris Toumazou, Professor of Circuits and Systems at Imperial College London

Prof Toumazou talked about some of the new electronics devices that are set to revolutionise medical diagnostics and therapy. He showed how using silicon microelectronics implanted in the cochlea, retina and hearts are already able to enhance many biological functions. He has developed very low power analogue devices with inductively charged power supplies. By focusing on current in the non-linear exponential region of a device's current/voltage response Toumazou is able to out perform digital devices by several orders of magnitude both on current and component count. Questions of fusion of technolgy with stem cells was raised and this is being investigated. Apparently adult stem cells are applicable thus avoiding any controversy. The problems of rejection and stimulation of immune response to a foreign implant is in the hands of medical device regulatory agencies who, apparently, have high standards. One of the more breathtaking moments was a video taken from a spinal endoscope. The lecture reminded cyberneticians of the elegance of analogue electronic solutions. The need for proper interdisciplinary working for succesful Bionics was emphasised.

Review of Nanotechnology

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering have requested initial views on this new study which intends to:

  • define what is meant by nanoscience and nanotechnology and to summarise the current state of scientific knowledge about these fields;
  • identify the specific applications of the new technologies, in particular where nanotechnology is already in use, how it might be used in future and the most likely timeframe for such developments;
  • assess the potential health, safety and environmental impacts of the applications of nanotechnology (including an indication of the associated uncertainties);
  • consider the ethical and social issues surrounding the development of this technology;
  • identify areas where additional regulation needs to be considered.

The Cybernetic Paradigm applied to nanoscale engineering problems could surely lead to a novel approach. Would anyone care to contribute to a seminar group? Contact Nick Green

Critique of Memetics

There has been much informal discussion of memetics in the Society amongst members recently- possibly stimulated by Susan Blackmore's "The Meme Machine" (1999) and Pask's work on self-organising processes as concepts for which brains are not a necessary requirement and any kind of matter is a sufficient support.

Thanks to Prof. Raul Espejo for pointing out the Mary Midgley attack on Dawkins' Meme. Members should note her work on Gaia, published by the Demos think tank is about the cybernetics of the homeostat applied to ecology. Demos claim:

"It can help to provide solutions for many of the large problems which conventional politics is failing to address, from global warming to mental health and well-being. So why has its significance often been missed by scientists, decision-makers, intellectuals and the media?"

This is support for the cybernetic approach. One wonders how this greatly respected critic of science might regard Pask's treatment of the concept? He interprets the cybernetics of the looping and persisting homeostat as a model of continuity in three dimensions and self-organisation, as does Gaia. His approach demonstrates meme-like properties.

Richard Dawkins protests at the venom of her attack. But does is his defence a success?

A further more measured response from Midgely followed.

Metaphorum Group First Meeting

Congratulations to Leonie Solomons for organising the first meeting of the Metaphorum Group at CybCon2003. A Call for Nominations for a President, Treasurer and Secretary will go out in the next few days. Topics of concern to the Group include:

  • Six degrees of freedom replication of Syntegration on the web
  • Stafford Beer Tools repository
  • Identification and classification of Management Disease
  • The unpublished work of Stafford Beer working group
  • Inventory of materials and artefacts
  • Stafford Beer Connections to founders e.g. Ashby and McCulloch, risk, complexity, his Critics and other approaches to well being.
  • Algedonic Signals Group- alerting and pain in Management
  • Support for the TV Documentary Team
  • Conflict Resolution and Pacification Group
  • Viable System Model and Team Syntegrity: the ViaSystant prototype
  • Governance and Politics Group

Metaphorum was formed at the Staffordian Syntegration. It's name reflects Pask's definition of Cybernetics as defensible metaphor and Beer's use of metalanguage to define control. Leonie Solomons has suggested a Metaphorum Conference on Government. More news when we have it.

Dr David Stewart

Our President Professor Martin Smith in a personal message thanked our Vice-President Dr David Stewart for establishing our Website now poised for further expansion on David's strong foundations. Developments discussed include Special Interest Groups and more commentary on the changing day-to-day scene scene in Cybernetics. Suggestions and contributions welcome.

President's Robots for Waste Watch

The Society's President, Professor Martin Smith recently attended the launch of three state-of-the-art presentation robots with the Minister for the Environment, the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher, at the House of Commons.

The robots were specially designed and built by and one of his former students, David Buckley, for the environmental education charity Waste Watch. Each robot, which contains four microcontrollers and an MP3 player, will visit up to ten schools per week promoting the message of waste minimisation. The charity found that children pay more attention to the message from the robots than the message presented by the robot's operator. Further details can be found on www.robot.org.uk


Have you paid your subscription?

Most members pay by Standing Order Mandate. If you are not one of these, and have not yet paid your subscription for 2003, please send your subscription by cheque to the Treasurer now. This is now 20 a year for all grades of member. Information on how to renew, or how to apply for membership, and a Standing Order Mandate form are in About the Society

Approved students can now join as Associates at a reduced annual subscription of 10.


As a judge in Robot Wars our President, Professor Martin Smith, has been asked to write a series of monthly articles on aspects of the future of robotics for Robot Wars Magazine.
Article 1, published 9 January, was "From Robot Wars to Robot Intelligence".
Article 2 will be "Towards Robot Citizens".
Article 3 will be "Overcome by Emotion".
The magazine has a circulation of 40,000 and is sold in W H Smith's etc.
He is using the opportunity as a vehicle to promote the interest of young people in studying physics, maths and engineering.


Tuesday March 11th at 7.15 pm. Science Week Event in association with the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Hampstead Scientific Society.

"Conscious Robots - Could we Create Them, Should we Create Them"
A debate between:
Professor Igor Aleksander, Pro-Rector of Imperial College London and former Chairman of the Cybernetics Society, Author of "Impossible Minds: my neurons and my consciousness" and "How to Build a Mind"
Professor Martin Smith, Head of the Mobile Robots Research unit, Technology Innovation Centre, University of Central England, President of the Cybernetics Society, Robot Wars judge.
Professor Steve Torrance. University of Sussex; Researching Artificial Life, Computation and Consciousness.
Chaired by Christine McGourty Science Correspondent, BBC online.
It was held in the Lecture Theatre, University College School, Frognal, Hampstead, London NW3 6XH.