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Technology for Living: #NewMacy in the 21st century

Format: Workshops, RSD10, Topic: Sociotechnical Systems

Tirelle Barron, Michael Munton, Paul Pangaro, Eryk Salvaggio, Fred Steier, and Mark Sullivan

The #NewMacy initiative was conceived in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Collaborators produced a scholarly rationale grounded in cybernetics that invoked the transdisciplinary history of the original mid-20th century Macy Meetings. As a result of a series of #NewMacy Conversations still ongoing, the initiative has narrowed the focus to the social impact of Today’s AI, the pernicious AI algorithms that are core to the large Internet platform companies and that thereby affect the daily lives of so much of the world’s population.

Specifically, the call-to-action for #NewMacy is to produce exemplars of alternatives to Today’s AI in the form of design patterns and prototypes that return interaction with digital algorithms back to the organic, analogue roots of our individual and social lives. By bringing forth replacements for the algorithms of Today’s AI we can foster digital interactions with more humane values and positive outcomes at the level of the individual and the social. Novelty and choice, transparency and conversation can become new core principles for our online lives.

Thus, in a modest but powerful way, #NewMacy affords a new vision for the future of sociotechnical systems where cybernetics becomes a bilingual glue, bringing together the humane qualities of analogue experience and modelling with the effectiveness and efficiencies of digital technology.

Related: Responding the the Pandemic of “Today’s AI”

#NewMacy Workshop

This interactive workshop engaged RSD10 participants as collaborators in the process of generating these #NewMacy outcomes. Participants will contribute to the ongoing definition, collection, creation, and critique of designs and implementations, for example by incorporating contemporary work from design, art, architecture, media, systems, and engineering as well as to expand the conversation to new communities.

Given the foundations described above (and in greater detail in the links provided) this interactive session advances the work of #NewMacy, consistent with the emergent and participatory nature of the initiative.

Between the time of this proposal (August 2021) and RSD10, two activities were held: [1] an interactive event hosted by the American Society for Cybernetics on September 19 as part of the related series (@NewMacyMeetings on Twitter), and [2] structured conversations in smaller, focused groups, each of which will develop a draft plan for a specific deliverable that presents an alternative to Today’s AI algorithms.

Hence the interactive workshop at RSD10 was designed to engage with participants in expanding the variety of #NewMacy in the form of vetting, critique, and improvement. For the attendees of RSD10, it offered ways of reframing the qualities of AI that we want in our daily lives, exposing a strategy for developing tangible alternatives in the form of design patterns, media art, and prototypes, and offering an entry point to engage in #NewMacy activities.

This interactive workshop viewed RSD10 participants as collaborators in the process of generating these #NewMacy outcomes. Participants contributed to the ongoing definition, collection, creation, and critique of designs and implementations, for example by incorporating contemporary work from design, art, architecture, media, systems, and engineering as well as to expand the conversation to new communities.

Exploring RSD10 themes

Playing with tensions

Cybernetics offers a systemic, transdisciplinary view of purpose in interactions replete with uncertainty; AI offers a transactional, computational view for producing results intended to remove uncertainty. #NewMacy proposes cybernetics as a frame for modelling interactions and as glue for joining the analogue and digital faces (which also constitute tension). The oppositions of cybernetics and AI are many, and the activity of articulating the differences and benefits for each, and embracing them to the extent needed to deploy them both effectively, is a foundational challenge to #NewMacy.

Embracing new complexity, collaboration and contexts in systemic design

AI systems today, for all their internal complexity, rely on models that (over-)simplify the nature of human emotions and decision making, reducing problems to those that an AI can compute. In contrast, cybernetics widens the frame to embrace complex systems with socio-technical contexts and to integrate design within and through that complexity. This requires designers to acknowledge the complexity of the world that they embed new systems within, encompassing collaboration and contextual awareness.

Breaks in scale

Pandemics are of massive scale; no less so the pandemics generated by Today’s AI. #NewMacy is specifically cast toward individuals forming expert groups that create exemplars to offer alternatives. The goal is not to trounce existing platform companies from top-down (for example, by attempting to gather forces toward government regulation) but rather by example to influence designers, teachers, students, entrepreneurs, and businesses to deploy alternatives that are in service of human values first, and revenue later. This is inherently a bottom-up effort working from the micro-level.


Clearly the issues with AI – its creation and its deployment – is a social issue as well as a technological one. By creating exemplars that offer technological alternatives that embody social values, the effort is squarely in the socio-technical realm.

Collaboration and transdisciplinary working

The #NewMacy is grounded in the history of transdisciplinary effort from cybernetics and the original Macy Meetings. Furthermore, we seek to design Conversations that are transglobal and transgenerational. The effort is fundamentally collaborative. See Design+Conversation.

Workshop format

120 minutes | maximum number of participants 50 | We are currently exploring collaborative platforms such as

Workshop Agenda: #NewMacy

The planned structure for the interaction session is:

  1. Capsulize the activities of #NewMacy to-date
  2. Icebreaker: Expose the issues that surfaced thus far about the terms ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’
  3. Capture new feedback and insights about possible pitfalls and value in using the terms, and how
  4. Break into small groups, each to explore a specific proposal for producing an alternative to the algorithms of Today’s AI
  5. Create a visual model for capturing insights
  6. Return to plenary to share each group’s model and insights with everyone.
  7. Gather any unaddressed questions and seek gaps in prior thinking
Cybernetics digital vs analogue concept

Why “Today’s AI” as a phrase? Not all AI is negative—yet so much of the artificial intelligence inside of today’s tech is manipulating what we see and distorting the world we share. Fueled by massive increases in “big data” and compute power, the machine-learning algorithms behind “Today’s AI” are tirelessly fomenting polarization, spreading social bias, pushing irrelevant products, co-opting our attention, addicting us to harmful activities, and surveilling our lives. A single, unregulated, global social-media platform, implicated in that litany of harm, has 2.8 billion active users. The Internet and its ubiquitous digital devices touch over 4.5 billion people. Surely “Today’s AI” is a pandemic of technology at global scale. –

Follow up (2021-11-04)

A number of new tensions emerged, too, for example, between the individual and collective — when we look at an individual through a “digital” framework, then we can optimize their pleasure in ways that harm the collective. Even solutions viewed through this lens become more complex: if we allowed data ownership, or paid people for data, then what about the social and collective harms of filter bubbles and optimized media delivery?

– Related Cybernetic Forests post by Eryk-Salvaggio

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Citation Data

Author(s): Paul Pangaro, Tirelle Barron, Michael Munton, Eryk Salvaggio, Fred Steier and Mark Sullivan
Title: Technology for Living: #NewMacy in the 21st century
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 10 September 2021
Last update:
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404