Imagining better futures with Cybernetics

What does it mean to use data in ways that are “better for everyone”? Entrepreneurs typically seek to contribute to a better future, but what does this mean as you incorporate frontier technologies into your startup growth strategy?

How can you create futures that are safe, inclusive, sustainable and responsible? How can you make sure you offer ethical services? What kinds of questions should you ask yourself in order to minimise harmful effects of unintended consequences?

To address these questions, the ANU School of Cybernetics is hosting three events targeting startup founders and collaborators who are looking for new ways of thinking about data.

Held as part of the 2022 Spark Festival at Yirranma Place in Darlinghurst, home to the Paul Ramsey Foundation, each event will introduce participants to cybernetic concepts to help them navigate how their products and services will impact people and the environment.

About cybernetics

Cybernetics first found form in the 1940s and 1950s as a response to the rapid expansions in computing technology following World War II, fusing maths, engineering, and philosophy with biology, psychology, anthropology and many other fields.

From its inception, cybernetics was a generative intellectual wellspring, shaping everything from AI to critical systems, theory, computer-driven art and music, design thinking, and the internet. The idea of cybernetics – of steering a technological object, with humans in the loop, and of the environment in that same loop – is just as relevant today as it was 70 years ago, providing us with hopeful and actionable ways to imagine our futures.

In a Spark Festival panel discussion Imagining Better Futures with Cybernetics, researchers from the ANU School of Cybernetics will join a representative from the Paul Ramsey Foundation to put forward cybernetic principles that will help startup founders consider how they use data in the best interests of people and the planet.

ANU Research Fellow Chris Mesiku says that it is critical that anyone collecting personal data considers the unintended consequences that may arise from the outset.

“The culprit is not data but how we manage it, the approach we take, and the questions we ask along the way, “ he said. “A cybernetics approach is akin to donning our night-vision goggles and although the view may not be perfect, it allows us to find our way, leading us in the right direction.”

In addition to participating in a panel discussion facilitated by Anne-Marie Elias, Chris will lead a workshop entitled Adrenaline pumping workshop for designing data solutions for good to demonstrate why data privacy continues to be such a polarising topic, and how designing data products that anticipate and respond to change at any stage of deployment should be an essential part of being a reflexive, responsible founder.

PhD Candidate Lorenn Ruster says that entrepreneurs envisioning, designing and building AI-enabled systems hold power in shaping our collective futures.

“Their values, consciously or unconsciously, drive decision-making. And the ecosystem — societal, technological, environmental — within which entrepreneurs sit, shapes their values.” she said.

As well as contributing to the panel discussion, Lorenn will lead a workshop entitled So you want to be ethical? Now what?, in which she will introduce the concept of centering dignity in AI development to help founders consider how they can adopt more ethical technology use.

“This is important, as there are many examples of AI systems that discriminate, disenfranchise and disempower humans, while there is also immense potential to use AI in ways that empower and contribute to changing systems of inequality, not further entrenching them,” she said.

All welcome to attend these events and workshops that are free with registration.


Imagining Better Futures with Cybernetics

9.30 am – 11.00 am, Tuesday 25th October 2022

A panel discussion to introduce cybernetic principles to help you navigate complex systems and create a ‘humanity first’ approach to your startup. 

Panel members

  • PhD candidate Lorenn Ruster, ANU School of Cybernetics
  • Research Fellow Chris Mesiku, ANU School of Cybernetics
  • Alex Fischer, Head of Research, Paul Ramsey Foundation
  • Anne-Marie Elias (moderator), UTS Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Morning tea will be served after the formal presentation.

Registration and more information.

Adrenaline pumping workshop for designing data solutions for good

11.30 am – 1:00 pm, Tuesday 25th October 2022

Who knew data workshops could get your adrenaline pumping with a truly exhilarating experience? Whether you are an entrepreneur, inventor, innovator or just plain curious, you are sure to enjoy yourself at this workshop led by Cybernetics Research Fellow Chris Mesiku.

This learning experience with a difference will expose you to some of the reasons why data privacy continues to be such a polarising topic and why being able to design and use data products that anticipate and respond to change at any stage of deployment is an essential part of being a reflexive, responsible founder.

Registration and more information

So you want to be ethical? Now what?

11.30 am – 1.00 pm, Wednesday 26th October 2022

Our dignity is often something hidden from view – hard to define, hard to measure. And yet, dignity is crucial to what it means to be human.  

Organised by PhD candidate Lorenn Ruster, this workshop will help unpack what dignity is, what it can look and feel like, and will assist you to work out how to actively protect and promote dignity in your work teams and in your AI-enabled products. In doing so, you’ll discover some practical next steps on your journey to being ‘ethical’ with dignity in the centre, helping you to ’walk the talk’ on putting ethics into practice. 

Registration and more information

Guest blog by Jackie Randles, Partnerships Lead, ANU School of Cybernetics.