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On the third part of our deep dive into the history of the discipline of Cybernetics and its relations to the labor movement, we discuss the life and theories of W. Ross Ashby. His work on measurement of the complexity of a system with the concept of “Variety”, helps us understand the ways complex structures, like a labor union, can be set up in ways that either give it the ability to adapt to changing inputs and become a stable, successful system, or can restrict its possible responses to a given situation and leave it unable to respond. We also discuss Stafford Beer’s interpretation of Ashby’s work, how it applies to economics, and the ways that thinking of complex systems like an economy in terms of variety helps us point out the differences between a capitalist and socialist economic system. On the next episode of our series, we will discuss Ashby’s pioneering work on his self-regulating machine, the homeostat.
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