Organizational and Cognitive Frameworks

We have stated that a set of social integration units must reach a certain threshold of complexity and structure in order to become a living unity.  We will now consider three sources of a higher-level cognitive architecture that can apply to any human social system.  The three sources are the living systems model, the viable systems model, and a cognitive architecture of the human brain.  The synthesis of these models will allow us to explore the notion of enterprise cognition.

The first of these three frameworks is James Grier Miller’s living systems model[30].  This model is a pattern of nineteen functional subsystems that Miller applies recursively at various levels of complexity: a single living cell, an organism, a social organization, and others.  These domains of functionality are grouped into three higher level systemic areas:

  • Material and energy subsystems are the functions within the organization that process material, use energy, and produce products and byproducts: Ingestor, Converter, Motor, Distributor, Supporter, Matter and energy storage, Producer, and Extruder.
  • Information processing subsystems are the nervous systems of organisms and organizations:  Memory, Encoder, Decoder, Associator, Decider, Channel and net, Input transducer, Internal transducer, Output transducer.
  • Hybrid subsystems have both material and information management aspects:  Boundary, Reproducer.    

The living systems model sheds light on the role or purpose of an organization within society, which in turn has profound implications for its information systems.  For instance a telecommunications company, as part of the channel and net function of society, has much greater emphasis on protocols, transmission media, switching gear, and logical addressing structures than would a producer, such as a toy manufacturer.
A second conceptual framework to incorporate into the enterprise cognitive architecture is the viable systems model (VSM).[31]  The elements of the VSM are organizations, the environments within which they exist, their management function, and the implicit or explicit model that management uses to understand and manage the situation.  The VSM identifies five systemic components of the organization.
System 1 represents the set of operational units each consisting of one organization with its environment and its management structure.  System 2 is responsible for maintaining and coordinating the set of mental management models (including standard practices and forms) within the organization as a whole.  System 2 functions articulate and enforce organizational norms - "the way we do things around here".  System 3 uses a direct command channel to give orders to the operating units via their individual management structures and an audit channel to monitor the day-to-day activities of System 1. System 4 looks outward into the environment as a whole and into the future.  It is oriented toward learning and change.  System 4 and System 3 are somewhat adversarial - the difference between a future-oriented and a here-and-now perspective.  System 5 exists to mediate between Systems 3 and 4, in order to balance the current and future needs of the organization.

Like the living systems model, the viable systems model is a recursive, or fractal structure. Inside every operational element of the organization can be a recapitulation of the entire model, Systems 1 through 5, behaving at a more granular level.
The third framework that forms the basis for our cognitive architecture of human social systems is an architecture of the human brain as a cognitive system.  Marvin Minsky views the brain as an organization of simple mental agents, each of which has limited intelligence, but which form increasingly complex patterns of interaction[32].

Arnold Trehub proposes a possible architecture to account for the basic cognitive capabilities of the human brain[33].  Starting from the physiology of the neuron, with synaptic junctions among axons and dendrites, a mechanism is proposed that can perform various cognitive tasks.  Matrices of synapses work together to build up higher levels of functionality.  For instance, visual input is processed by a domain of imaging functionality, and a domain of detection that work together and report to higher levels of cognitive functionality.  From the time light enters the retina until logical inferences can be drawn, there are succeedingly higher levels of processing domains that are invoked.  The complete cognitive architecture includes synaptic matrices, simple input preprocessors, clock rings, size and rotation transformers, a semantic network, and various high-level executive processes, such as registers for plans and actions.