Cybernetics and Systems '98 - Preface


When in 1972 the first European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research took place, there existed, to our knowledge, only one other conference in this area, namely the Congrés International de Cybernètique of the Association Internationale de Cybernètique, located in Namur in Belgium.

However, in recent years, the number of conferences, symposia, workshops etc. in the area of cybernetics and systems research has started to increase. If, for example, we take a look at the conferences which will take place in 1998, a list, probably not complete, is the following:

I am glad to provide you with more information and especially with the contact points of these conferences.

In 1978 I was asked by the president of Hemisphere Publishing Corp., Mr.William Begell, if the Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies would be willing to take over, with myself as Editor-in-Chief, a journal named "Journal of Cybernetics", which had been founded in 1971 by the American Society for Cybernetics and, for unknown reasons, had not managed to take off.

After changing the name of the journal to "Cybernetics and Systems" and actively approaching scientists to contribute to the journal, even inviting leading scientists to edit special issues dedicated to a specific topic, the journal started to flourish, especially during the last decade, in such a way that the publisher, Taylor and Francis (which has bought Hemisphere Publishing Corp.) decided to change the frequency of publication from quarterly to bimonthly and, last year, even to 8 issues per year.

Furthermore, last year saw, for the first time, the appearance of a seminal work, Charles Francois' "International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics", a volume with definitions of vital concepts in this field, the result of an immense effort over several years, and an indispensable tool for everybody working in this area.

One more observation which also indicates the revival of these disciplines: For more than 20 years, no scientist applied for the Habilitation ("licence" to teach at an Austrian or German university, connected with the title "Dozent") in Medical Cybernetics at the University of Vienna Medical School, but in 1996, Dipl.-Ing.DDr.Gerold Porenta applied (successfully) for the Habilitation. 1997 saw the next application (still in progress), and another one is already expected for 1999!

How come that cybernetics and systems have such a revival? In my opinion, there are three reasons for this development:

  1. A superficial one: William Gibson, with his novel "Neuromancer" and his coining of the word "Cyberspace" initiated the "Cyber-prefix flood": Cyberculture, Cyberpunk, Cyberfood, Cyber..... This may have startled the primary curiosity to know more about the discipline that gave its name to the Cyber movement.
  2. Today's hot research topics like Autonomous Agents (e.g. Wooldridge and Jennings), Affective Computing (e.g. Picard), Synthetic Actors with Emotions (e.g. Trappl and Petta), Lego-based robots (e.g. Resnick et al.), Cognitive Robotics (e.g. Stein) have their origin in papers like those by W.Grey Walter in the Fifties or the book "Vehicles" by Valentino Braitenberg - then professor and director of an Institute for Biological Cybernetics - or other eminent researchers in the fields of cybernetics and systems.
  3. The increasing complexity of our world, the globalization through electronic networks, etc. make people look for models to help them understand what's going on: this need either leads to ideologies often based on anti-enlightenment movements or to explanations which show how to cope with complexity, i.e., cybernetics and systems models.
The conference reflects this revival: Its sessions, and therefore the chapters in these volumes, range from theory-based, design-oriented, to domain-oriented, from the quantum to socio-economic systems. But also the "hot topics", as mentioned above, are represented, including e.g. embodied cognition and agent theory and implementation.

The global nature of this meeting is also illustrated by the fact that the 300 authors of these 151 papers stem from 37 countries from five continents: 249 from Europe (only 54 from Austria), 24 from North America, 22 from Asia, 4 from Africa and 1 author from Australia. These volumes therefore present a really international spectrum of ongoing research.

A conference and one of its results, the proceedings, only become a reality as the result of the concerted efforts of many persons: First of all, I would like to thank the contributors who undertook so many important and interesting research projects, then condensed their results to six pages and submitted them in time to make the proceedings available at the Meeting. Second, I thank the chairpersons of the symposia of the Meeting: they helped in the selection of the topics, often invited scientists to contribute, helped in the evaluation of the papers, and finally chaired their sessions. They joined me in the editorial board of this volume.

Third, I would like to especially thank Mrs. Isabella Ghobrial-Willmann and Mag. Gerda Helscher for their great organizational help: Our efficient and charming secretarial staff not only handled hundreds of letters, faxes, e-mails, drafts, final papers, phone requests, etc. with care and diligence - I hope the contributors share my impression! - but also did most of the preparatory work for this conference with great initiative and independence, for which I am especially grateful to them. Furthermore, Dipl.-Ing.Dr. Johannes Matiasek provided the professional "computer background" of both the Meeting and the proceedings, based on his valuable experience through many conferences, Prof.Dr. Werner Horn adapted the style sheets for LaTeX, and Mag. Alexandra Klein helped in the preparation of the subject index.

I hope you will enjoy studying "Cybernetics and Systems '98". Perhaps you are even persuaded to join our group at the Fifteenth Meeting in 2000 in charming Vienna - at the first of our European cybernetics conferences in the third millennium. See you then.

Vienna, February 1998 Robert Trappl

Literature mentioned:

Braitenberg V.: Vehicles. Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1984.

Francois C.: International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics. Saur, Munich, 1997.

Gibson W.: Neuromancer. Grafton, London, 1984.

Picard R.W.: Affective Computing, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA, 1997.

Resnick M., Martin F., Berg R., Borovoy R., Colella V., Kramer K., Silverman B.: Digital Manipulatives: New Toys to Think With. In Proceedings of the CHI'98 Conference, Los Angeles, April 1998.

Stein L.A.: Postmodular Systems: Architectural Principles for Cognitive Robotics. Special Issue on Epistemological Aspects of Embodied Artificial Intellgience (guest-edited by E.Prem). Cybernetics and Systems, 28(6), 1997.

Trappl R. and Petta P.(eds.): Creating Personalities for Synthetic Actors. Springer, Heidelberg/New York, 1997.

Walter W.G.: An Imitation of Life. Scientific American, May, Vol. 182, No. 5, 1950.

Walter W.G.: A Machine That Learns. Scientific American, August, Vol. 185, No. 2, 1951.

Wooldridge M.J. and Jennings N.R.(eds.): Intelligent Agents and Multi-Agent Systems. Special Issue of Applied Artificial Intelligence, Parts 1 and 2. Applied Artificial Intelligence 9(4), 1995 and 10(1), 1996.

Last modified: Wed Oct 7 14:44:54 MET DST 1998