Note — Feb 16, 2020

Anthropology, Cybernetics, and Establishing a New Branch of Engineering

Seen in → No.113

Source →

Very good podcast interview with Genevieve Bell (there’s also a transcript at the link above) on the 3AI Institute she founded—with the “starting premise of establishing a new branch of engineering to take AI safely to scale.” Covers the thinking behind the institute, and the questions structuring their work. I’ve mentioned the project before and it’s not super new but I’m including it this week for the part on cybernetics, it’s history, founding, the series of conferences structuring the discussion, and the framing of the original questions in such a way that “they had to, by necessity make sense of the technical systems, human systems and ecological systems.”

He wanted to convene these interdisciplinary far-reaching conferences. Although, they were kind of unconferences or ur-conferences before that was a fashionable term. The question was, who would you bring together to talk about cybernetics, because that’s how they framed it. […]

Those topics run everything from mind control, ideas about memory, ideas about octopus’ consciousness, ideas about childhood learning and development, ideas about the subconscious, ideas about technical systems and computation and abstract linguistics. […]

I think the forms of systems engineering that came into being in the early 20th century are hugely important to us now as we think about the fact that we are looking at systems that are not just systems of technology, they are systems that include culture and people and the environment and in our insistence on thinking of them as technical systems only, we have created some really interesting challenges. […]

For me, the attraction of cybernetics is both to go to a form of systems thinking that is informed by an idea of a system that has to by necessity encompass people, the environment, and the technology, not just the technology. That, for me, as we think about what it would take to take AI safely to scale feels hugely important.