Syntegration Topic (Return to List of Topics)


Topic ICTs and Co-evolution in Society
Participants | Rebecca Herron | Chris Atkinson | Clive Holtham | Eve Mitleton-Kelly | Clas-Otto Wene |
Critics | Consuelo Davila | Pete Barnsley | German Bula | Bob Malcolm | John Mingers |

Meeting 1 Notes

Meeting 2 Notes

Meeting 3 NotesOutcome Resolve

Co-ordinator = Clive Holtham

Date: 9 July Time: 15:15 to 16:30 Facilitators: Toni & Jennifer


  • What is our thinking now?
  • Let us consider the following diagram:

Feedback Mechanism - Society and Technology

  • The use of feedback mechanisms seems useful to study the relationship between society and technology. It is a way of deepening society's understanding of technology. However, getting into society is only possibly by reinforcing these loops.
  • Some others think that positive and negative feedback mechanisms are too simplistic and therefore they cannot explain the complexity of these phenomena. May be there are another type of feedback loops we should consider.
  • Regarding the diagram, we have to take into account that different levels apply here: there are multi-levels and multi-loops. However, are we taking about in this case of recursion levels?
  • Is the model valid? Notice that there is an overlap within different groups: those developing programs of the government, those in technological industry, other individuals, etc.
  • We have to remember that co-evolution should be the focus of our attention. We can see that without feedback there is no co-evolution. How do humans evolve in this cycle? This scheme (shown above) is a very conventional model of developing technology. How can it explain co-evolution?
  • Furthermore, how do we use models? Feedbacks are a very important instrument in the study of co-evolution. But, how do humans co-evolve? Well, we claim that in fact humans do not co-evolve, instead their ideas do co-evolve.
  • Let us take a particular instance and ask: how can a good surgeon co-evolve? For example in minimal invasive surgery they have developed techniques for surgical operations using microscopic holes. The recovery time of the patients is shorter than the recovery time of patients that undertook traditional surgeries. After the first successful cases a lot of other surgeons follow in the use of the technique but the results were not the same because they did not go through the same learning curve. Despite of this, invasive surgery was reduced by 60%.
  • As a consequence, they realised that they had to create virtual surgical environments to simulate, to practice and to develop new techniques. In this case, the procedures co-evolved with the technologies. As a consequence, hospitals started to change their practices. They got rid of lots of beds. They took charge of more serious cases and many nurseling skills simply disappeared.


  • If we need more than positive and negative feedbacks, what else they can be? 
  • Which are the complex interactions between the person, the material and the social?
  • Why not you consider other straight forward mechanisms: for instance, some countries do not develop new technology, only take it; in other words, one part of the world is making the technology while other (the so called "third world") is taking it and changing as a result. For the "third world" the technology is a given fact.
  • Can we say that technology is an emergent property of the social relationships?
  • We need a long-term perspective in which there is a transition period to approach the issue of co-evolution here.
  • Notice that not all technologies are market-oriented. We may also have a sort of political orientation in its development like in the military market.
  • One question has to be considered: how can we construct new possibilities, new technologies avoiding undesirable effects?
  • We need to set different domains of responsibility to help explaining co-evolution. At the moment there is much more rhetoric than concepts. Is co-evolution something that we can only observe? Can we participate on it?


  • How can we bring in to our model the negative effects of the rise and fall of the companies? Can we predict from past experiences what will happen?
  • Why we have always to think in terms of intervention and prediction? We need to be able to create the possibilities to facilitate this process to happen. We need to develop sensitivity because we are not separated from the totality.
  • We still do not understand what co-evolution means in the social context. It seems that the biological view doesn't apply to it.


  • The issues of values and structure should be addressed. Values are crossing in many ways the relations between society and technologies. At the same time, we don't have a world-state and hence world-regulations, so we don't have structures to support these networks.


  • The new surgical approaches are an example of the difficulties in dealing with ethical and normative social implications of the use of these new tools. In "third world" countries normally an elite can access to key-hole surgery; the rest of the people will get a "poor" surgery.
  • Individuals responsible for the allocation of resources have to think in the consequences of that allocation. How does co-evolution come into play here? In the same surgical case, the techniques, the drugs, the procedures are there. People have to be involved in the design of protocols.
  • But, at this stage of our discussion, is co-evolution a rhetorical picture of our theme?


  • We need a deeper understanding of the notion of co-evolution in the social context; biological analogies are not always adequate.
  • We can build a concrete example to extract some ideas. There is more than positive and negative feedback loops.
  • Learning (anticipation) is a requisite for adaptation and co-evolution.