Sharon Irish‘s talk on Stephen Willats last night was also remarkable for the presence in the audience of George Mallen, who contributed some fascinating reminiscences of working with Willats and Gordon Pask in the latter’s company, System Research Limited, based in Richmond. This was in the 1960s/ 1970s, when computers were neither as developed nor as accessible: he recalls preparing a batch of instructions and then driving from Richmond to Brighton to run them overnight!
He kindly told me the address of the company – 20, Hill Rise, over what was then a music shop. (Though elsewhere he describes it as over a launderette. Maybe it was both at different times. The music shop was still there when I first came to Richmond.) He also told me that Pask got a contract from the UK Home Office to develop simulation methods for evaluating crime and criminal intelligence. Several senior Police officers came along, through the music shop to Systems Research, to take part in simulations, and these became quite intensive – so much so that voices were raised and audible downstairs. During one heated conversation about how to pull off a major crime at Heathrow, a concerned citizen notified the local Police, who duly raided Systems Research…
George Mallen’s fascinating chapter in ‘White Heat, Cold Logic‘ also tells the story of how the CAS put together ‘Ecogame’ which he believes “was the worlds first interactive, multimedia, computer controlled game” – and which was the inspiration for Stafford Beer‘s Cybersyn project in Chile, which I blogged about here in 2008, and here earlier this year. (You know you are sad when the only references to Beer in your own blog are to a cybernetics pioneer.)
George Mallen was also one of the three founders of the Computer Arts Society, who kindly arranged Sharon Irish’s talk.
I find it both ironic and immensely encouraging that all the time I have been working on simulations, and struggling to define and operationalise an art practice that doesn’t fit within the rules, I have been living a short walk from the site of Pask’s and Willats’ office. Now there’s psychogeography for you.