Saturday, July 26, 2014

Cutting the Gordian Knot of Complex Problems: Cybernetics & Policy

This event will be held in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the American Society of Cybernetics which commences in Washington DC on Monday 4th August.

What can a cybernetic perspective bring to the issues of the day?  With examples from Iraq, HealthCare, Transportation, and Finance.
"Monday August 4, 4-6 pm
George Washington Business School, DUQUES HALL, 2201 G Street NW, Room 258

The decision maker of today is faced with a complex world composed of many open, value-laden, multi-level, multi-component systems, situated in turbulent, unstable, and changing environments. When a plane crash in eastern Ukraine with 298 people aboard will affect the European gas supply, health care for AIDS patients, the decisions of the UN Security Council, and international sanctions -- which will then alter trading on the NYSE, world trading partnerships, British real estate prices and the American economy -- that complexity seems both obvious and paralyzing.

Complexity is the source of very difficult scientific challenges for observing, understanding, reconstructing and predicting the multi-dimensional dynamics of present-day systems. Cybernetics is the science of reflexive constraints in systems consisting of many participants -- all of whom observe, decide, act, observe, etc. It examines the role of context and assumptions which together help shape the understanding of both problems and their potential solutions.

When what is happening in your world doesn't make sense, when it doesn't conform to your beliefs about how things work, it's time to ask hard questions. Cybernetics is the science of developing those questions by examining both the situation and the people and institutions charged with achieving adequate management, regulation or control.

While the hard sciences may suggest that decision makers consider all the information they can about both the current situation and the past, and then with a sense of desired outcomes, lay plans of action to get to those outcomes, cybernetics exposes the “wishful thinking” this entails. Cybernetics questions our ability to rely on "predictive" models by noting the blinders built into the models themselves.

We bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with our view of the world and the outcome we want. We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear that which fails to match our prior expectations.

Cybernetics helps you develop the very questions you should ask of both yourself and of the situation you are examining. It highlights the pitfalls when one attempts to understand the whole as a "black box." The view of that crash from Donetsk differs greatly from the view in Iowa City.

Cybernetics highlights the constraints as you map and parameterize inputs and outputs, and as you observe systemic behaviors. Most importantly, it demands reflective questioning when you decompose the system into its constituent subsystems, recursively, until you think you have reached a natural stopping place for decision-making. Such questioning may, for example, help guide British policy toward Russian banking sanctions.

In order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face. Cybernetics should be part of your repertoire."

No comments: