30th Annual Conference
"The Evolution of Meme Machines"
Dr Susan Blackmore writes:
We humans are meme machines. So are the printing presses and telephones, and the computers and web servers that we have built. Memes are habits, skills, ideas, technologies and stories that are copied from person to person, or from a person to paper or silicon and back again. In other words, memes are the information that makes up human culture. Like genes, memes are selfish replicators. That is, they are information that is copied with variation and selection, and this means that they must inevitably give rise to a new evolutionary process. As with other evolutionary processes, memetic or cultural evolution happens for the benefit of the replicators themselves, not for the benefit of individual humans who copy them, nor for the benefit of the species, nor for the benefit of the planet.
I shall outline the basic theory of memetics, and discuss its implications for human evolution, the design of our brains, and the growth of modern information technology. These are all the consequence of the co-evolution between replicators (memes) and their replicating machinery. The internet, the web and all its consequences are just what we should expect of the rapidly accelerating evolution of meme machines.
The question that remains is what will happen now. The process is not under our control and we cannot make accurate predictions. Nevertheless, by understanding the processes involved we may better be able to cope with living as meme machines in a fast changing world.
"Disseminating the Stafford Beer Archives – DVD illustrations"
Doug Haynes writes:
Stafford Beer is credited with being the founder of Managerial Cybernetics, the science of effective organisation. A Professor of 5 different disciplines, his passion was to put together knowledge from all the different disciplines spanning art and science, so that a holistic perspective could provide productive insights and interventions to positively influence human and social systems.
From the early 1980s, Denis Adams at Liverpool Polytechnic, introduced cybernetics into the teaching of Operational Research and later into Business Analysis. He found the Viable System Model provided a tool to handle the complexity of managing organisations and their information and communication systems. In 1990, the Polytechnic purchased the Stafford Beer Collection, now housed in Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) Special Collections. In 1992, to help mark the inauguration of LJMU, Stafford exhibited his installation of 10 paintings entitled ‘Requiem’ in the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. In 1994 LJMU sponsored an experimental student workshop at the Falcondale Hotel, Lampeter, where Stafford introduced a group of students, new to cybernetics, into the World of Systems and Managerial Cybernetics. In 1996, Stafford’s Festschrift was held at Liverpool Business School and Stafford received an Honorary Fellowship and gave his Culpabliss paper.
Doug Haynes has been an integral member of the Liverpool Managerial Cybernetics team throughout and will show several favourite sequences of video material spanning this period. Of key interest is the issue of dissemination. The Liverpool group has been strong in local dissemination, where a large number of undergraduate and postgraduate students have taken on the powerful cybernetic thinking tools into their future employment organisations. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships too have provided many opportunities for organisational audit using the VSM. On the national and international scale, the Metaphorum group have tried to use cybernetic principles in meta-dissemination. Is it working? Can we do better?
"Modern developments in low-level programming"
Jeremy Gordon writes:
These days, home and business computer users expect to be able to start any personal computer or laptop, and immediately be able to understand and use it.
This is a considerable improvement over the situation when computers were first introduced.
The standardisation of applications enforced by the Windows operating system is largely responsible for this. Despite such standardisation, perhaps surprisingly to some people, assembler programming remains very popular. It is true that programming in assembler is properly regarded as very "low-level" programming. However, using the Windows operating system is very "high-level" programming.
This is an excellent mix and Jeremy Gordon will demonstrate why this is so, and why assembler programming remains in use today.
He will describe recent developments in Windows programming and why we shall be continuing the advance to ever more powerful home and business computers.
We will then have some fun (getting our hands very dirty indeed) by looking inside a Windows application working step-by-step in a debugger. This will provide some insight into how the Windows operating system actually works.
Jeremy is a practising barrister but writes development tools when time permits. He will be demonstrating his suite of "Go" tools which are in the forefront of the technology he will be describing.
"The Wonder of Trivial Machines"
Professor Stephen Gage writes:
Architecture is differentiated from building in that it is deemed to induce sensations of delight or wonder in its observers. The first question is: where does this delight or wonder reside?
The paper takes the metaphor of a trivial machine that was proposed by Heinz Von Foerster and argues that a work of architecture is the physical embodiment of a trivial machine (a constructed construct) and that the process of constructing such a machine for the first time is not trivial and can induce sensations of delight in an observer. This applies both to the observer who designs the machine (the architect) and to the observer who passes by and who reconstructs it in his or her understanding. The interaction between the designer and the passer by can be minimal with the former having only a very primitive understanding of the latter.
Initial delight and wonder can pall. The second question is: can trivial machines be constructed which have some of the attributes of non-trivial machines in that the output is continually surprising and new? When a trivial machine is nested inside another machine whose function is not fully known the result is an inverted, non-trivial machine in Von Foerster’s terms. The paper argues that physical architecture can behave like this passively in certain conditions. Recent technical advances in low cost sensing, computation and actuation allow the possibility of actively creating variety in this way.