Category Archives: Pangaro

Designing Our World

4xsquares design=as=conversation sq close-cropped

To “design our world” has been the goal of every human generation. Every day we wake up to an invitation to become whom we wish to become. I believe the role of design is to help all of us to achieve that goal for ourselves — that is, to be designers of our own world.

Ambitious, I realize. As is trying to tame wicked problems through design.

But what is “design” anyway? Why isn’t “design thinking” enough? And what’s this got to do with cybernetics, anyway? I offer viewpoints in my Heinz von Foerster ’17 Lecture, entitled Designing Our World: Cybernetics as Conversations for Action. See the abstract, video, and supporting materials here.

My First iPhone

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Not an iPhone but an architecture of services that it inspired for a report for Samsung in 2010.

I remember June 29, 2007, as if it were yesterday (almost). I bought my first iPhone from the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City on the first day it came out. I had worked all day on a typical consulting gig from my apartment, which was a 10-minute walk to the flagship Apple store. Around 4pm I had done enough so I figured, What the hell? — yes, it was that casual — I’d stroll over to see what was up. What I found was a party. I hadn’t intended to, but I got on line to buy. Read more…

Be Part of the Evolution of Interaction Design

In Fall 2017, the MFA program at CCS is introducing a new studio course called “Interaction Design Evolution.” The course invites students to riff on prior innovations in the history of interaction design and then to invent their own. Seriously.


Rendering of Vannevar Bush’s MEMEX concept from 1945

One example from history: Vannevar Bush’s “MEMEX” comes from the 1940’s. Bush conceived it as a desk containing vast amounts of information stored on reels of microfiche (because digital magnetic media didn’t yet exist). Bush imagined retrieval of information based on what we now call tagging, achieved here by visual splotches on the edge of the frames of microfiche. We’ve got tagging in modern, digital web browsers (with vastly greater numbers of tags and vastly greater speed). But Bush also imagined two displays—not one, as we have today. Why?

Read more…

Interaction Design – Theory and Practice

At the generous invitation of Chris Myers, chair of Graphic Design at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I led a 5-day workshop with 9 juniors in his BFA program and gave a public lecture.

The basis of the visit was a workshop in interaction design.  I also gave a lecture, “It Depends on Whom I’m With”, whose title expresses what I consider the cardinal goal of interaction design: to create conditions such that each participant can be whom they want to be—or become. Read more here.

Conversation Theory in One Hour


Gordon Pask at his desk in the late 1980s. Photograph (c) Paul Pangaro.

I was invited to give a presentation about Gordon Pask and his Conversation Theory at the annual conference of the American Society for Cybernetics in June 2016. My great friend and colleague, Jude Lombardi, has kindly produced and edited a video of my hour talk, which begins with an introduction to Pask as an experimentalist and “maker”. From this foundation Pask built a scientific theory of how conversation works, including a detailed formal “calculus of cognition.” He also offers the principle that consciousness is conserved in the same sense that physics says that matter and energy are conserved. Read more…

What’s in Your Bot?

There’s been a huge rush toward using AI (artificial intelligence) to build “conversational UIs“—user interfaces that allow us to type or speak to computers in natural language. Sorta. It’s the latest interaction mode and it comes after people interacting with machines, then talking to each other through machines, then talking to machines. Kindah like a conversation (but not really). Here’s a diagram of that progression:


Cover of the proposal to NSF, “Graphical Conversation Theory”, written by the MIT Architecture Machine Group, 1977

Today, when you hear about all that, “AI” means a specialized kind of AI that’s hugely popular called machine learning. (Yeah, I didn’t make that a link, you can just google it. We all know that we all know how. You’ll find some OK stuff about it. )

So when Siri or Cortana, Amazon or Google, Apple or Facebook, IBM or GE—all of  whom are infected with the AI meme—deploys the machine-learning brand of artificial intelligence, it might be good for you to think about it. (But then, that’s up to you.)

I think about machine learning being everywhere in the virtual world whenever I make a typo on my mobile and my text gets snatched away from me and turned into drivel. (Or every time I ask my intelligent assistant two related questions in a row and it behaves as if I’m the schizophrenic in the chat.)

And here’s how I think about it: Read more…

Happy 105th Birthday, Heinz!


Mai and Heinz von Foerster in Pangaro’s 1970 Citroën DS21 in Pescadero, California, in the early 2000s (Photograph: Paul Pangaro)

Heinz von Foerster was born 105 years ago today. He was a major figure in the beginnings of cybernetics from the middle of the 20th century, and through to its flowering as second-order cybernetics. His ideas can be magical and one of his papers is still a favorite and voted the favorite of students in cybernetics + design courses year upon year.  His wife, Mai, also magical in her clarity as well as succinctness (a trait not shared by Heinz), once said to me, “Heinz has a mind like a crystal.” He demonstrates this so well in his “Ethical Imperative”, a cybernetic koan worthy of contemplation and action: Read more…