RM 130212 Cybernetics Management and Security Policy
I think the U.S. may be on the verge of making an important strategic mistake in science and in management education. Here are three stories to illustrate the historical background.
1. The Macy Foundation conferences in 1948-1953 led to founding the field of cybernetics. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macy_conferences The Am. Society for Cybernetics was founded in 1964, about 50 years ago, at the Cosmos Club on Mass. Ave. There was some government money, perhaps CIA, behind it. A man named Jack Ford, who worked at the CIA, was involved. At the time there was concern about a “cybernetics gap” with the Soviet Union. Recall JFK’s “missile gap” during the 1960 campaign. At the time the Soviets thought cybernetics would tell them how to manage their centrally planned economy. About this time Soviet Cybernetics Review was created to translate key Russian articles into English and make them available to US scientists. As late as the early 1980s, when I first went to Moscow, I was asked privately by one scientist if prices were set by a big computer in the basement of the Dept. of Commerce. For a history of Soviet cybernetics, see Slava Gerovitch From Newspeak to Cyberspeak. Although some courses and research centers in cybernetics were set up on university campuses, such as the Bio. Computer Lab at the U of Ill., on the whole cybernetics was widely discussed but did not take root as a separate discipline in the US. Also, cybernetics needed support from the govt. Research was funded mostly by AFOSR and ONR. The Mansfield Amendment unintentionally ended support for fundamental cybernetics research in the US and greatly boosted research on the electronic battlefield and robotics. See http://www.gwu.edu/~umpleby/recent_papers/2003_Heinz_von_Foerster_and_Mansfield_Amendment.pdf
2. Statistical quality control was largely invented in the 1930s by Walter Shewhart. Deming worked with him. After WW II Deming went to Japan to teach sampling to help with a census. He told the Japanese that quality control would improve their product quality and industrial productivity. By the 1980s US companies could not compete with the Japanese. For a more complete account see Chapter 1 of The Deming Management Method attached. Note particularly the end of the article where she discusses Japan and Deming’s work at GW. An NBC documentary reintroduced quality control methods to the US in 1980. See link attached, “If Japan can…”. The US created the Baldrige Award in 1985 which was soon followed by a European Quality Award and a Russian Quality Award. No other recent management methods have had such a large impact on the relative competitiveness of nations. These methods are still not routinely taught in US business schools. They are taught in “corporate universities” which have grown up to teach what corporations need that business schools are not teaching. Business schools are specialized. Quality methods are multidisciplinary. Project management (a new field of business) is the only exception. It is small but growing. So, quality improvement methods were invented in the US. The Japanese learned about them, improved them and soon were taking business away from the US, because the US had forgotten these methods or turned away from them. When we realized what had happened, we were able to compete with Japan.
3. Cybernetics was largely created in the US after WW II, but many Europeans were involved, e.g., von Neumann, von Foerster, Von Glasersfeld, von Bertalanffy. Beginning in the 70s or 80s work in cybernetics and systems science began to move back to Europe. See http://www.gwu.edu/~umpleby/recent_papers/2008%20Shift%20of%20Cybernetics.doc Americans look for meaning in applications. Europeans look for meaning in more general theories. See http://www.gwu.edu/~umpleby/recent_papers/2009/2009%20conver&divergence%202.doc The situation now is that cybernetics, a general theory of control and communication, is becoming a European discipline. Americans are not interested. I think this is not good for US competition in an information society. NSF is currently very concerned about STEM education and the under-production of computer science graduates in the US. But computer science is just one part of cybernetics. Until very recently there is no general awareness of the larger field within the US govt. See my AAAS memo on Cybernetics and Security Policy. However, lately interest in cybernetics seems to be increasing.
4. One of the best, if not the best, management schools in Europe is the U of St. Gallen in St. Gallen, Switzerland. They have created a St. Gallen Management Model. Info. is available on the web. A spinoff is the Malik consulting group (http://www.malik-management.com/en/about-us ), the largest management consulting organization in the German speaking part of Europe. They use the St. Gallen Mgt Model, which is a combination of process improvement methods and systems thinking – primarily the work of Beer, Forrester, and Ackoff. Although there was interest in systems thinking in US business schools in the 1970s, perhaps due to the Club of Rome models, the S cubed group at Wharton, etc., interest in systems thinking declined since the 1980s and there is now active hostility to any views outside of the Financial Times top 40 journals. The hostility is driven by competition among universities to rise in rankings, which use a narrow set of journals. I worry that the US is falling behind Europe in cybernetics and systems science, just as it fell behind Japan in using statistical quality control. This is embarrassing, since the ideas originated in the US. Americans are a competitive people. They do not like to see others getting ahead of them. We responded quickly and effectively in the case of quality control, but I think the response in the case of cybernetics will be more difficult for several reasons.
a. Quality control involves methods that can be taught to production workers in corporate training programs. Cybernetics is more like an academic field, somewhat like physics. It needs an academic home.
b. Universities are designed to preserve and develop specialized fields. A transdisciplinary field like cybernetics would be threatening to specialists. Physics has survived, but it predated the more applied fields of engineering.
c. Experience has shown that the survival of centers in systems science and cybernetics requires a new structure for a university. See John Warfield’s Wandwaver Solution, available via a websearch.
Reawakening interest in cybernetics in the US will not be easy, but I think it is necessary for the US to remain competitive internationally. I am confident we will come to this conclusion eventually. Sooner would be better than later. I welcome suggestions on what actions would be helpful.
ROBERT STEELE: If an Open Source Agency (OSA) is created and I have any role at all in creating it, it will be dedicated to three propositions:
01 That cybernetics, true cost economics, whole systems modeling, and transparent truthful feedback loops are the essence of a Smart Nation.
02 Education, intelligence, and research must be nurtured as one integral system with easy cross-disciplinary and cross-domain access.
03 Open Source Everything (OSE) and Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making (M4IS2) are central to scaling all of this nationally and then hemispherically (Americas first) and then globally — the first makes it all affordable, and the second provides the diversity of sources and methods the USA cannot achieve unilaterally.