World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics
Moscow, 16. to 18. September 2020
Systems approach and cybernetics, engaging the future of mankind
The significance of systems and cybernetics in the future of societies
Important world institutions, such as the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are publicly recognizing the highly interconnected nature of our world and therefore the relevance of systemic thinking and cybernetics as leading knowledge foundations to deal with the complexity of economic, social and environmental issues. This recognition by major international agencies of the CyberSystemic nature of policy issues makes apparent that in the context of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics more than ever we need to debate and develop current ontological, epistemological and methodological approaches to understanding the future of humanity.
WOSC is honored that the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) has agreed to be the venue for its 18th Congress (WOSC 2020). Consistent with its scope scientists of this Academy have made important contributions to key issues of human society over the past decades. They have contributed to problems of nuclear disarmament, space exploration, the fight against terrorism, self-organization for strategic projects and many more. More recently, they have been developing aspects of socio-humanitarian cybernetics and of self-developing reflexive-active environments. Indeed, the RAS is a most valuable setting to support further developments of these and other issues.
Our aim in WOSC 2020 is to bring CyberSystemic scientists, and in particular younger researchers, together with politicians and practitioners to debate pressing economic, social and ecological problems of humanity, at all levels from local communities to global societies.
For this purpose, we propose to focus the discussions on the following four themes: philosophical and methodological foundations for the development of the systems approach and cybernetics, the cybernetics of democracy, the cybernetics of hybrid reality, and governance in an increasingly interconnected, ecologically sensitive, world. Short summaries of these themes are introduced below.
1. Philosophical and methodological foundations for the development
of the systems approach and cybernetics
Challenges and threats to the future of humanity are increasing pressure to develop systemic approaches and cybernetics. For this purpose, it is necessary to debate the foundations of the philosophy of science, ontology, epistemology and methodology. New ideas are needed concerning scientific rationality, the observer problem, the transdisciplinary approach, and the problems of complexity, reflexivity and ethics. We must increase the convergence of civilization and cultural specifics in the development of systemic approaches and cybernetics. The inclusion of multiple perspectives in systems thinking enables systems thinking and cybernetics to play a leading role in science diplomacy.
WOSC 2020 invites participants to discuss alternative approaches to recognize the participation of observers in human activities, starting from the traditional approaches of having external observers accepting an objective reality, going to observers as participants in the construction of our situational realities, as we interact with multiple environmental agents, and extending all this to an increased attention to the contextual constraints imposed by ecological and societal aspects to the co-evolution of situational actors and environmental agents.
The latter are relevant to societies to make them more functional and coherent. These meta-contextual aspects are not directly focused on actors and agents, but the framing of their interactions is limiting the free unfolding of situation-environment interactions. This way we can reflect on aspects of societal significance, such as the ecological chains straining resources or the economic inequalities limiting fairness as well as justice. WOSC 2020 wants to make inroads into how to study the mechanisms shaping interactions, communications and relationships in complex systems, whether enterprises, government agencies, small businesses or families. In particular, we want to offer an opportunity for participants to contribute with replicable approaches, emerging from their epistemological and methodological standing, their practical experiences in the life-world of societal, ecological and economic situations. Issues like boundaries, structures, communications and interaction mechanisms can influence good practice and improve our contributions to society.
2. The cybernetics of society ecology and governance
Cybernetics in the development of democracy. Cybernetic models of decentralized control. Cybernetics of self-developing reflexive-active environments. Cybernetic models of self-organizing communities of experts. Network democracy and collective intelligence. Strategic Control and Development Centres in initiating and supporting the consolidation of the state, business and society.
Our democratic models are functioning in the world of big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and algorithms and often are being explicitly used in the top-down direction. This makes it increasingly difficult to bridge global and local constructs and to provide constructive feedback loops. Effective interactions between citizens, experts and policy-makers are a major challenge.
Direct, representative and participative democracies need further development to be effective. We invite discussions of the significant distinction between the “wisdom of the crowd” emerging in citizens minds and evidence-based decisions, resulted from debates supported by experts, think tanks and political parties and also by the media. This distinction touches key aspects of communications in a complex world, today dominated by big data, which in practice implies data overload for citizens and politicians. How do we increase societal capacity to identify, understand and react on the dynamics of their environment? For citizens of a country, big data may support conflating their very local experience of income restrictions, immigration flows into their communities or poor local health services, with deciding whether or not to support global policies. Politicians, also overwhelmed by data -in an uncertain world- may construct and impose their truths influenced by ideology, weak expert advice and short-term political interests.
In WOSC 2020, we invite reflections on how to reduce the gap between sound evidence and emotional constructions. We need to discuss our responsibility to create regulatory procedures to contextualize what we hear in the media and social networks. We invite reflections on the authenticity, legitimacy and truthfulness of the arguments advanced by those forming public opinion. It may be argued that the complexity of social processes makes impossible dealing with these challenges. Complexity management tools such as situation centres for development, social networks and artificial intelligence, are emerging from systems thinking and cybernetics. These tools carry some risks but also have the potential to increase the opportunities for more effective participation in policy and decision-making processes. We need to learn how to keep open checks and balances between multiple viewpoints to bridge gaps between emotional and empirical truths. We need to learn how to construct dialogues enmeshed in multiple moral mazes. This proposed utopia for WOSC 2020 is an invitation for participants to contribute to more transparent societies.
3. Technology and humanity: co-developing a hybrid reality
Hybrid reality is about the close interconnection of technology and people, either individuals or groups, addressing every instance of their behaviour. From a cybernetic perspective, it is a convergence and integration of subject, digital and physical reality. It offers an amplification of individual capabilities as well as an attenuation of the digital representation of the world, actively affecting their lives. Hybrid reality refers to the dynamics of people’s life worlds in smart environments, experiencing the implications of new technologies.
In WOSC 2020, we are inviting contributions on the state of the art of technology research, focusing especially on its implications for people, organizations, societies and the environment. Discussions on computing in design and architecture, smart devices and environments (personal and organisational), big data analytics and sharing, artificial intelligence, situation centres for development, energy and transport related issues, cyber security, health, blockchains and the convergence of technologies. The reasoning on technological feasibility should be advanced with implications for society and the environment: economic justifications, accordance to law, the ethical perspective, effects on the environment, and paths for identifying not yet identified consequences.
People are adapting to huge changes in their surroundings. They are invited to share their experiences and thereby contribute to producing group knowledge, that may become the next meta-level of group consciousness. In the age of human-machine interdependence, the boundaries between individual and group intelligence are redefined, putting technology in everything we do and experience. Reasoning on group consciousness and clarification of these boundaries pose a challenge for WOSC 2020.
Special attention is given to the design of hybrid reality elements. In addition to being subject-supportive, proactive, secure and providing value-added, the seamless supplementing of the natural and artificial in hybrid reality adds to the desired positive user experience.
We think that it is important to use systems thinking to manage the complexity of interactions in the hybrid reality to maximize its synergetic potentials on individuals and organizations and to avoid misuse and mitigate undesired consequences.
4. The creation of new areas of knowledge from the transdisciplinarity
of systems sciences and cybernetics
In a world increasingly dominated by interactions, one of the challenges is facilitating self-organization processes for the emergence of desirable values in societies and for the creation and production of related policies from the most local to the most global levels. These are processes, aimed at innovation as well as making more meaningful people’s collective concerns. Good governance increases the opportunities for people’s development. However, at the same time, it has the potential to avoid fragmentation by facilitating the alignment of their interests. For example, citizens' participation in decision-support systems of distributed situational centers helps increase opportunities for self-organising networks.
We want to open debates to explore governance grounded in people’s interactions, communications and relationships. Through the investigation of institutions and evolving technologies, the Congress’s focus is to discuss contributions that guide, enable and facilitate interactions among available resources to increase society’s requisite variety to deal with social, ecological and economic challenges.
On the one hand, the creativity of people’s communications should help them by branching into all kinds of aspects necessary for a better life, and their moment to moment coordination of actions should help them align their interests. We want participants in WOSC 2020 to explore issues of social concern through deeper and wider appreciation of what is relevant.
As the complexity of societal issues grows the practical need for bringing together people’s concerns grows as well. This is an ongoing process of building ecosystems and making their boundaries operationally meaningful to all those affected.
We are proposing WOSC 2020 as a platform for cyber-systemic contributions to the above themes. We envisage a programme supported by group discussions supporting collective synergy, as well as by presentations of state-of-the-art research by individual researchers.
The aim of the WOSC 2021 Congress is to offer a platform for conversations and debates about societal issues from a CyberSystemic perspectives, reflecting upon aspects relevant to humanity’s current and future viability...
Important world institutions, such as the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are publicly recognizing the highly interconnected nature of our world, and therefore the relevance of systemic thinking and cybernetics as leading knowledge foundations to deal with the complexity of economic, social and environmental issues.
The aim of the WOSC 2021 Congress is to offer a platform for conversations and debates about societal issues from a CyberSystemic perspectives, reflecting upon aspects relevant to humanity’s current and future viability. WOSC and the Russian Academy of Sciences organised an online event for people from different parts of the world last September. Its focus was on climate change, water resources, immigration, health problems and other global and local strategic issues.
These conversations were underpinned by a cybernetic manifesto, driven on the one hand by the citizens’ rights to possess freedom, autonomy, and privacy and, on the other hand, by their responsibilities to create, regulate and produce fair social, ecological, and economic social systems. People’s rights and responsibilities emerge from their complex web of interactions as they constitute organisational systems.
We wish that the overall content of WOSC 2021 relates to these complex webs. Citizens contributions to society need more than information; they require communications. We believe this is an important distinction that this Congress wants to highlight. Messages exchanged by people are more than information bullets going from an origin to a destination through an empty space; the meanings of these messages emerge from the communication media underpinning these interactions (cf. Marshall McLuhan). Historically these media have been hierarchies and technology controlled by the few with power in society. Our proposal in WOSC 2021 is to learn to how produce these networks through heterarchies, that is, by non hierarchical networks, controlled by the power of the commons. It is through these kind of interactions that people can propose, co-create, and produce social systems and construct better societies. To achieve societies of the commons, we are proposing to overcome fragmentation and to learn more about how to develop holistic and socially responsible societies in the context of our current socio technical developments.
Research communities are establishing, one way or the other, international networks, something that is enabling the exchange of research results and thus the sharing of knowledge. Nevertheless, the research itself is often constrained by national, regional or local organisations, restricting researchers to follow the limited agendas of their leaders and managers. Even with the desire to cooperate, global research teams serving humanity are hard to establish, manage and above all, finance. Thereby, in WOSC 2021 we are advocating the support of global research collaboration, to enable researchers the formation of international research teams in pursuing goals beyond national, regional or local interests.
Since the postponement of WOSC 2020 last September was triggered by the huge impact of COVID-19, from the global society to the local individual, we think that we must highlight it in our conversations in WOSC 2021.
Focus on crises: COVID-19
COVID-19 is not only a global crisis for humanity, exposing the geopolitical weaknesses of nation/states to respond to a pandemic, it has also heighted a universal crisis by exposing individual people’s weaknesses to cooperate, share resources and exhibit empathy in their daily behaviours. Similarly to the response to climate change, COVID-19 is making apparent that policies and mechanisms for global governance need much improvement at all levels. COVID-19 experiences are modifying social interactions and will profoundly alter the post-COVID-19 responses to current and future crises, such as climate change, unequal distribution of resources, different forms of discrimination, impact of digital technologies and others.
The lack of capabilities of the global and local communities to effectively fight against the pandemics has contributed to the awareness of wide sections of the population to their vulnerability in front to even relatively minor threats. And, we cannot ignore that the increase of interstate and civilizational tensions may be contributing to the emergence of new, potentially, devastating global threats.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a cruel, but crucial lesson for understanding the readiness of humanity, and more widely of individual actors to adequately respond to global crises, as well as to study the relations between individual behaviours and their interests for the sustainable development of humankind. The pandemic is convincingly proving that the world community is lagging behind producing decisions to respond to emerging global threats. This leads to inappropriate waste of resources, the formation of unstable economic and political processes, and to the emergence of undesirable longer term consequences. The conclusion is obvious, humanity itself is in a state of crisis.
Researchers should offer new models of the consolidation of civilizations, states, corporations and society for joint organizations to act in the elimination of global threats. Can the perspectives offered by systems and cybernetics make a difference? What might be the role for new digital technologies and artificial intelligence? Can mankind find a means to overcome its reluctance to cognize and confront long-term systemic risks?
We are inviting to discuss in WOSC 2021 these crises from the viewpoint of the four themes that were presented in the WOSC 2020 programme and discussed in September of this year.
For a more enlightened crisis governance, it is fundamentally important to find the root causes of our societal lack of preparation to respond to crises. Various models have already been developed. We can draw our perspectives from the models that have been proposed in psychology, cybernetics, biology, law, economy and many others.
The analysis of the current situation starts with agents, which reflect the regulatory and interactive aspects of their activities (Lepskiy 2019, Espejo & Lepskiy 2020). We invite contributors to WOSC 2021 to explore five essential characteristics of CyberSystemic systems: purposefulness, reflexivity, communicative competence, networking capabilities and the ability for social development in complex environments.
Purposefulness. COVID-19 has convincingly shown that humanity lacks strategic goal-setting mechanisms. Humanity has not formed adequate mechanisms for aborting its outdated plans, for identifying global threats and for ensuring readiness to prevent and mitigate their effects. Systems thinking and cybernetics can provide mechanisms for the design and governance of inclusive interlinked purposeful systems.
Reflexivity. The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that humanity lacks mechanisms to ensure adequate reflection related to the threats that have arisen, the methods of protection and neutralization of their consequences. We are lacking global institutions for scientifically grounded operational reflection of emerging global threats and the mechanisms for developing a consolidated reflexive position of the world community on the emerging global threats. The systems approach and cybernetics can provide numerous studies on reflexivity related to the governance of social systems (Heinz von Foerster, Vladimir Lefebvre, Vladimir Lepskiy, Stuart Umpleby, Karl Müller, Dmitry Novikov and others).
Communicative competence. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, communication problems in the world community have clearly manifested themselves at a wide variety of levels from the state to the level of individual organizations and communities. The systems approach and cybernetics build on the early research and modelling of communications and media processes (cf. Norbert Wiener, Marshall McLuhan, Gordon Pask and others).
Social networking. In the context of the social orientation of humanity, the following aspects are most relevant: identity, freedom, social responsibility, ethics, spirituality of agents. We may be facing the disregard for these social dimensions in the process of overcoming the current crisis, which may continue way into the post-crisis period. Systems thinking can support aspects of social behaviour in works on social responsibility, participatory approaches and others.
Development in complex environments. In the context of the emergence of global threats to humanity, humanity must have the ability to self-organize, to form adequate types of agents. Systems thinking and cybernetics can provide models of self-developing, which would increase the ability to develop various types of social systems. It is fundamentally important to note the need to assemble agents into wholes based on a systemic approach that will integrate their characteristics beyond fragmentation (cf. Stafford Beer, Raul Espejo, Vladimir Lepskiy and others).
Taking into account the management and the consequences of COVID-19, the pandemic should guide the content of urgent problems to be discussed in WOSC2021. These guides are the proposed in the following four themes for this Congress: