COLLOQUY OF MOBILES 1968 (www.medienkunstnetz.de)
Imagine walking into a gallery and seeing these larger-than-life mobiles hanging from the ceiling — they rotate, blink, squawk, and sometimes synchronize with each other, completely without human intervention. You walk among them, blocking their interactions, using a flashlight to attract their attention, wanting to get in on their conversation.
This was Gordon Pask’s COLLOQUY OF MOBILES at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, part of an exhibition called Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968. Yes, 50 years ago in 1968 — an exploration of machine-to-machine and person-to-machine conversations in an interactive, immersive environment, perhaps the first of its kind. Frequently praised for its originality and influence, Pask’s COLLOQUY is a precursor to practices of contemporary art and design, as well as a prescient vision of our future with machines that may choose to act on their own.
The Cybernetics Conference, held in New York City on November 18, 2017, was an extraordinary gathering of passionate individuals interested in design, media studies, art, and the future of society.
At the conference opening, Michael Yap and I held a keynote conversation titled “Now What: Cybernetics, Design, and Society.” The livestream of this keynote is available, as well as a PDF of the slides (thanks to Michael and Pooja Upadhyay).
The entire conference livestream is available here.
We want to acknowledge the fabulous arrangements from all of the organizers, especially Sam Hart, Melanie Hoff (who also did program and website design), and Francis Tseng. Special thanks to Joly McFie who ran the webcast and was the only person at the conference who was present at Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968 in London, mentioned during our talk.
I personally hope The Cybernetics Conference, New York City, becomes a yearly event, perhaps a resurgence of the Macy Meetings, that were the foundation of the breadth and depth of cybernetics, held in the 1940s and 1950s. It is time.
To “design our world” has been the goal of every human generation. Every day we wake up to an invitation to become whom we wish to become. I believe the role of design is to help all of us to achieve that goal for ourselves — that is, to be designers of our own world.
Ambitious, I realize. As is trying to tame wicked problems through design.
But what is “design” anyway? Why isn’t “design thinking” enough? And what’s this got to do with cybernetics, anyway? I offer viewpoints in my Heinz von Foerster ’17 Lecture, entitled Designing Our World: Cybernetics as Conversations for Action. See the abstract, video, and supporting materials here.
Not an iPhone but an architecture of services that it inspired for a report for Samsung in 2010.
I remember June 29, 2007, as if it were yesterday (almost). I bought my first iPhone from the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City on the first day it came out. I had worked all day on a typical consulting gig from my apartment, which was a 10-minute walk to the flagship Apple store. Around 4pm I had done enough so I figured, What the hell? — yes, it was that casual — I’d stroll over to see what was up. What I found was a party. I hadn’t intended to, but I got on line to buy. Continue reading
At the generous invitation of Chris Myers, chair of Graphic Design at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I led a 5-day workshop with 9 juniors in his BFA program and gave a public lecture.
The basis of the visit was a workshop in interaction design. I also gave a lecture, “It Depends on Whom I’m With”, whose title expresses what I consider the cardinal goal of interaction design: to create conditions such that each participant can be whom they want to be—or become. Read more here.
Gordon Pask at his desk in the late 1980s. Photograph (c) Paul Pangaro.
I was invited to give a presentation about Gordon Pask and his Conversation Theory at the annual conference of the American Society for Cybernetics in June 2016. My great friend and colleague, Jude Lombardi, has kindly produced and edited a video of my hour talk, which begins with an introduction to Pask as an experimentalist and “maker”. From this foundation Pask built a scientific theory of how conversation works, including a detailed formal “calculus of cognition.” He also offers the principle that consciousness is conserved in the same sense that physics says that matter and energy are conserved. Continue reading
There’s been a huge rush toward using AI (artificial intelligence) to build “conversational UIs“—user interfaces that allow us to type or speak to computers in natural language. Sorta. It’s the latest interaction mode and it comes after people interacting with machines, then talking to each other through machines, then talking to machines. Kindah like a conversation (but not really). Here’s a diagram of that progression:
Today, when you hear about all that, “AI” means a specialized kind of AI that’s hugely popular called machine learning. (Yeah, I didn’t make that a link, you can just google it. We all know that we all know how. You’ll find some OK stuff about it. )
So when Siri or Cortana, Amazon or Google, Apple or Facebook, IBM or GE—all of whom are infected with the AI meme—deploys the machine-learning brand of artificial intelligence, it might be good for you to think about it. (But then, that’s up to you.)
I think about machine learning being everywhere in the virtual world whenever I make a typo on my mobile and my text gets snatched away from me and turned into drivel. (Or every time I ask my intelligent assistant two related questions in a row and it behaves as if I’m the schizophrenic in the chat.)
And here’s how I think about it: Continue reading
Mai and Heinz von Foerster in Pangaro’s 1970 Citroën DS21 in Pescadero, California, in the early 2000s (Photograph: Paul Pangaro)
Heinz von Foerster was born 105 years ago today. He was a major figure in the beginnings of cybernetics
from the middle of the 20th century, and through to its flowering as second-order cybernetics
. His ideas can be magical and one of his papers is still a favorite
and voted the favorite of students in cybernetics + design courses
year upon year. His wife, Mai, also magical in her clarity as well as succinctness (a trait not shared by Heinz), once said to me, “Heinz has a mind like a crystal.” He demonstrates this so well in his “Ethical Imperative”, a cybernetic koan worthy of contemplation and action: Continue reading
Norbert Wiener is the centerpoint of a new project to raise awareness about the history of cybernetics.
There are quite a few videos, including a 16-minute trailer about the proposed full-length documentary (full disclosure: I’m advisor to the project and appear on-screen). The site also offers a wonderful talk by Andy Pickering, proposing a new synthesis and New Macy Meetings. (Andy started using the term “antidisciplinarity” in reference to cybernetics, which brought cybernetics to the attention of Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, as described in his piece in the Design + Science Journal.)
To understand conversation is to understand how we learn about the world and how we communicate and collaborate with others. Products and services can benefit from a better understanding of conversation. Designers benefit from understanding conversation better, because they can design for better conversations.
Conversation Model by Minsun Mini Kim, SVA IxD MFA Grad. Click for full view.