After the pandemic: Cybernetic systems and an approach to the future

Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell’s 2021 Garran Oration

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Written by: ANU School of Cybernetics
29 Mar 2022

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Our Director Genevieve Bell delivered the 2021 Garran Oration, the Australian public sector’s most prestigious address.
Our Director Genevieve Bell delivered the 2021 Garran Oration, the Australian public sector’s most prestigious address.

Our Director Genevieve Bell delivered the 2021 Garran Oration, the Australian public sector’s most prestigious address.

The Garran Oration honours the memory of the first, and one of the most prominent Australian Commonwealth public servants, Sir Robert Garran GCMG. It has been held every year since 1959.

Previous Garran Orations have been given to former Prime Ministers and senior figures in the Australian society and culture over the years.

“This Oration is a meditation on the shape of the future, and the tools and approaches we might need to cultivate in order to succeed in it,” Prof. Bell said.

Prof. Bell explained that cybernetics is a way of making sense of systems—an approach that can help understand, build, and imagine the future.

“… and if those systems always and already include relationships between the human, technology and the ecological, then our understanding of future systems needs to be informed by those three things and the relationships between them, and Cybernetics could indeed help us approach our systems-rich future. As such Cybernetics offers a perspective that could inform a range of different practices and practitioners. Standing in 2021, the ideas of Cybernetics – of steering a technological object, of the idea of humans in the loop, and of the environment – feels hopeful and a generative approach to the future.”

Explaining why the new cybernetics in the 21st century matters to Australia and the world, Prof. Bell said,

“The pandemic has been a series of society-wide experiments in reconfiguring and adjusting systems, and in having to respond quickly to changing circumstances, and in contradistinction to conventional wisdoms. There is much we should reflect on from this period. And as we look to a future rich with ever more such systems, we might need to imagine new models of engagement and governance, new kinds of critical thinking and critical doing, and new sorts of training. How do we teach ourselves to see these systems all the time, not just when they are broken?”

IPAA 2021 Garran Oration with Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell AO from IPAA ACT on Vimeo.

Click to watch the oration Click to read the full speech

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