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The Law of Requisite Variety(Cybernetics) and Project Cybersyn
11-30-2012, 12:55 AM, (This post was last modified: 11-30-2012, 01:47 AM by macfadden.)
The Law of Requisite Variety(Cybernetics) and Project Cybersyn
The Law of Requisite Variety

The larger the variety of actions available to a control system, the larger the variety of perturbations it is able to compensate.

Control or regulation is most fundamentally formulated as a reduction of variety: perturbations with high variety affect the system's internal state, which should be kept as close as possible to the goal state, and therefore exhibit a low variety. So in a sense control prevents the transmission of variety from environment to system. This is the opposite of information transmission, where the purpose is to maximally conserve variety.

In active (feedforward and/or feedback) regulation, each disturbance D will have to be compensated by an appropriate counteraction from the regulator R. If R would react in the same way to two different disturbances, then the result would be two different values for the essential variables, and thus imperfect regulation. This means that if we wish to completely block the effect of D, the regulator must be able to produce at least as many counteractions as there are disturbances in D. Therefore, the variety of R must be at least as great as the variety of D. If we moreover take into account the constant reduction of variety K due to buffering, the principle can be stated more precisely as:

V(E) ³ V(D) - V® - K

Ashby has called this principle the law of requisite variety: in active regulation only variety can destroy variety. It leads to the somewhat counterintuitive observation that the regulator must have a sufficiently large variety of actions in order to ensure a sufficiently small variety of outcomes in the essential variables E. This principle has important implications for practical situations: since the variety of perturbations a system can potentially be confronted with is unlimited, we should always try maximize its internal variety (or diversity), so as to be optimally prepared for any foreseeable or unforeseeable contigency.

Some Comments
Ashby's Law can be seen as an application of the principle of selective variety. However, a frequently cited stronger formulation of Ashby's Law, "the variety in the control system must be equal to or larger than the variety of the perturbations in order to achieve control", which ignores the constant factor K, does not hold in general. Indeed, the underlying "only variety can destroy variety" assumption is in contradiction with the principle of asymmetric transitions which implies that spontaneous decrease of variety is possible (which is precisely what buffering does). For example, a bacterium searching for food and avoiding poisons has a minimal variety of only two actions: increase or decrease the rate of random movements. Yet, it is capable to cope with a quite complex environment, with many different types of perturbations and opportunities. Its blind "transitions" are normally sufficient to find a favourable situation, thus escaping all dangers.

Ashby's law is perhaps the most famous (and some would say the only successful) principle of cybernetics recognized by the whole Cybernetics and Systems Science community. The Law has many forms, but it is very simple and common sensical: a model system or controller can only model or control something to the extent that it has sufficient internal variety to represent it. For example, in order to make a choice between two alternatives, the controller must be able to represent at least two possibilities, and thus one distinction. From an alternative perspective, the quantity of variety that the model system or controller possesses provides an upper bound for the quantity of variety that can be controlled or modeled.

Sociocybernetics analyzes social 'forces'

One of the tasks of sociocybernetics is to map, measure, harness, and find ways of intervening in the parallel network of social forces that influence human behavior. Sociocyberneticists' task is to understand the guidance and control mechanisms that govern the operation of society (and the behavior of individuals more generally) in practice and then to devise better ways of harnessing and intervening in them – that is to say to devise more effective ways to operate these mechanisms, or to modify them according to the opinions of the cyberneticist.

[Image: All_Watched_Over_by_Machines_of_Loving_G...90x290.jpg]

Project Cybersyn was a Chilean attempt in the years 1971–1973 (during the government of President Salvador Allende) to construct a top-down command and control decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy. It was to consist of a network of telex machines (Cybernet) in state-run enterprises and government offices that would transmit information to a government-run mainframe computer in Santiago. Information from the field would be fed into statistical modeling software (Cyberstride) that would monitor production parameters (such as raw material supplies or high rates of worker absenteeism) in real time, and alert government managers if those parameters fell outside acceptable ranges. The information would also be input into economic simulation software (CHECO, for CHIlean EConomic simulator) that the government could use to forecast the possible outcome of economic decisions. Finally, a sophisticated operations room (Opsroom) would provide a space where managers could see relevant economic data, formulate responses to emergencies, and transmit advice and directives to enterprises and factories using the telex network. The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer, and the system embodied his notions of cybernetics in industrial management.

The project's name in English, Cybersyn, is a portmanteau of the words "cybernetics" and "synergy". Since the name is not euphonic in Spanish, in that language the project was called Synco, both an initialism for the Spanish SYstema de iNformación y COntrol, "system of information and control", and a pun on the Spanish cinco, the number five, alluding to the five levels of Beer's Viable System Model.


In July of 1971, Stafford Beer was contacted by Fernando Flores, then a high-level employee of the Chilean Production Development Corporation (CORFO), for advice on incorporating Beer's theories of cybernetics into the management of the newly nationalized sector of Chile's economy. Beer saw this as a unique opportunity to implement his ideas of cybernetic management on a national scale, and also sympathized with the stated ideals of Chilean socialism, which aimed to maintain Chile's democratic system and the autonomy of workers instead of imposing a Soviet-style system of top-down command and control. More than just offering advice, Beer stepped aside from most of his other consulting business and devoted a great deal of time to what became Project Cybersyn, traveling to Chile frequently to collaborate with local implementors and using his personal contacts to secure assistance from British technical experts. The implementation schedule was very aggressive, and the system had reached an advanced prototype stage at the start of 1973.

The system was most useful in October 1972, when about 50,000 striking truck drivers blocked the access streets that converged towards Santiago. According to Gustavo Silva (executive secretary of energy in CORFO), using the system's telex machines, the government was able to guarantee the transport of food into the city with only about 200 trucks driven by strike-breakers, recouping the shortages caused by 40,000 striking truck drivers.

After the military coup on September 11, 1973, Cybersyn was abandoned and the operations room was destroyed.

The system

There were 500 unused telex machines bought by the previous government, each was put into one factory. In the control centre in Santiago, each day data coming from each factory (several numbers, such as raw material input, production output and number of absentees) were put into a computer, which made short-term predictions and necessary adjustments. There were four levels of control (firm, branch, sector, total), with algedonic feedback (if lower level of control didn't remedy a problem in a certain interval, the higher level was notified). The results were discussed in the operations room and the top-level plan was made.

The software for Cybersyn was called Cyberstride, and it used Bayesian filtering and Bayesian control. It was written by Chilean engineers in consultation with a team of 12 British programmers.

The aesthetics

The futuristic operations room was designed by a team led by the interface designer Gui Bonsiepe. It was furnished with seven swivel chairs (considered the best for creativity) with buttons, which were designed to control several large screens that could project the data, and other panels with status information, although these were never functional and could only show pre-prepared graphs.

The Ops room used Tulip chairs similar to those used in the American science fiction TV programme Star Trek.

[Image: 1886_1289858415_3.jpeg]

[Image: 6a00d834520df269e20120a5a3cd9e970c-800wi]

The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer, and the system embodied his notions of cybernetics in industrial management.

Cybernetics and complexity
Complexity is inherent in dynamic systems because their processes are often non-linear and therefore hard to observe and control. However, the only way to overcome complexity is to realise its existence in the first place. Knowledge about how regulation, control and communication function in every form of system needs to be applied – this knowledge is known as cybernetics. Norbert Wiener defines cybernetics as the study of regulation, control and communications in life forms and the machine. In a business context, such an approach can help managers understand complex situations and therefore deal with them better.

Stafford Beer, creator of the Viable System Model and founding father of Management Cybernetics explains feedback with the help of a model of a steam engine Watt Governor. Control is implicit not external to a system.

On Cybernetics / Stafford Beer

a term used by Stafford Beer to describe the feedback an organism, organization or machine receives from the environment. The algedonic loop is the large feedback loop that goes outside the organism and, through reward or punishment, indicates the environment's response to the organism's behavior.

Quote:In the 1970s Stafford Beer considered this condition as necessary for autonomy which identifies self-organization in persisting and living systems. Using Variety analyses he applied his neurophysiologically derived recursive Viable System Model to management. It consists of five parts: the monitoring of performance of the survival processes (1), their management by recursive application of regulation (2), homeostatic operational control (3) and development (4) which produce maintenance of identity (5) under environmental perturbation. Focus is prioritized by an alerting "algedonic loop" feedback:[28] a sensitivity to both pain and pleasure produced from under-performance or over-performance relative to a standard capability.

“There were four levels of control (firm, branch, sector, total), with algedonic feedback (if lower level of control didn't remedy a problem in a certain interval, the higher level was notified).”

There's no Debatin' these Socialist Calculations!!

“Stafford had hoped to install "algedonic meters" or early warning public opinion meters in "a representative sample of Chilean homes that would allow Chilean citizens to transmit their pleasure or displeasure with televised political speeches to the government or television studio in real time.”

“It really isn't going to get any better until there is an algedonic feedback loop in place to reward success and punish failure.”

“And, going back to my earlier point about algedonic feedback loops, people who never receive negative feedback are unlikely ever to learn their jobs adequately.”

“With no functioning algedonic feedback loops, evolutionary improvement can never occur.”

Messages In This Thread
The Law of Requisite Variety(Cybernetics) and Project Cybersyn - macfadden - 11-30-2012, 12:55 AM

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