blindspot’s Entry

Embodying Cybernetics: The Pask Prize

When comparing the ASC of today to the ASC of the time when cybernetics was widely thought of as inspiring and exciting, something seems to have gone missing. The ASC of the past, which many ASC members fondly remember, was exploratory, tentative, experimental, enthusiastic and exciting. The present ASC however seems tired, inward-centered, defensive and conservative: it takes great care to conserve thoughts, ideas and models it cherishes. While these thoughts, ideas, principles and models are valuable, we need to revive a spirit of and a taste for experimenting, exploring, making, trying, and wonder. I propose to the ASC to revisit this spirit, which is not so much concerned with reflection and tradition, but with the exploration of the unknown through embodiments of cybernetic thinking. I see embodiments of cybernetic thinking in the machines that many cyberneticians of the past have built: W. Ross Ashby, Heinz von Foerster, and especially Gordon Pask, among many others, were prolific in producing machines and devices that fascinated others. Ricardo Uribe is still prolific in building devices and is probably the last great cybernetic bricoleur alive.

In my view, these machines were not outcomes or mere demonstrations or even illustrations of existing thoughts. I believe they were media that enabled thinking through creative and curiosity-driven experimentation. They brought people together in conversations that inspired ideas, similar to the use of sketching in design. At the Architectural Association, Pask’s work reached new fields beyond science, and inspired many who are now associated with the ASC. In recent years, interest from fields such as design and architecture in the ASC (not cybernetics!) has declined significantly.

To encourage and support embodiments of cybernetics I propose a new annual prize to be awarded by the ASC at its annual meetings: the PASK PRIZE. The prize should be awarded to a technical embodiment of cybernetic thinking that is speculative and experimental rather than illustrative, and which serves as medium for experiment, creative thought as well as wonder. The prize is awarded online based on submissions on youtube. There should be a lot of publicity around it. It should attract some interest since there are many people on youtube who build and demonstrate wonderful technical intentions and ideas online. In this way, this prize competition may attract many of those to the ASC who would not normally attend ASC meetings.

Timing / Schedule: The prize should be announced and given annually, with a schedule similar to this competition.

Format: Submissions are 4-8 minute youtube videos, which should feature some text, either spoken or written, that gives some explanation or background to the cybernetic ideas embodied and a statement about the significance of what is shown.

Jury: 5 willing ASC members with technical appreciation, ideally with Ricardo Uribe as chair of the prize committee.

Prize: A certificate issued by the ASC, free participation in the ASC conference of that year, where the winning entry may be demonstrated live and where prize is awarded officially, plus a 5 year ASC membership. A cash prize would make this even more attractive.

Author is elegible for HvF Prize (aged under 35): NO

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