Travels of a Distinguished Lecturer

Gave 12 lectures in nine cities in South Africa

6 April 2010

As a distinguished lecturer for the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society, I visited nine cities in South Africa in September and gave 12 lectures sponsored by the SMC Society and the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE). The talks were the Bernard Price Memorial Lecture (BPML) program for 2009, a yearly series of lectures sponsored by the IEEE South Africa Section and organized locally by the SAIEE. The program is a result of a national society agreement both organizations signed, through which they regularly participate in conferences, workshops, and other events sponsored by each organization.

Price was a South African industrialist and philanthropist who provided initial funding to establish the BPML series, which has been held annually since 1931. Last year was the first time the BPML series was presented by an IEEE member. My lecture tour coincided with major anniversaries of both organizations: IEEE’s 125th and the SAIEE’s centennial year.

Distinguished lecturers are IEEE members chosen to travel and present talks in their fields of expertise at IEEE meetings. In past years, I have served as president of the SMC Society, as a division director, and as a member of the IEEE Board of Directors. Currently, I am a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, where I direct graduate student research. I’m the founder of Intelligent Robotics Corp., also in Vancouver, which specializes in automation systems. My career includes 40 years in robotics, manufacturing automation, and control engineering with industry, R&D laboratories, and universities located in Canada, Germany, and the United States. I became an IEEE student member in 1967, and IEEE continues to be an important part of my professional life.

During my tour, I delivered two lectures. The first, “Distributed Intelligence: A New Paradigm for Systems Integration,” was presented to the IEEE student branches at the University of Witwatersrand, the University of Johannesburg, and the University of Cape Town. Fifty to 100 students and faculty were in attendance at each university. The lecture described intelligent agent and holonic system technologies that have been developed at my company and university laboratory, in cooperation with the SMC Society’s Technical Committee on Distributed Intelligent Systems and the Holonic Manufacturing Systems Consortium, an international industry-driven R&D project to develop, standardize, and apply holonic system technologies to manufacturing enterprises.

Holonic intelligence is used to build distributed systems with physical and software components that operate autonomously but cooperate to manage production in dynamically changing, networked environments. Holonic intelligence concepts provide a systems engineering approach for developing and implementing a distributed infrastructure for manufacturing systems and supply chains. My presentation contrasted the differences between centralized and distributed systems, detailed advances in the technology, and described recent applications of holonic intelligence.

My second lecture, “Intelligent Systems for a Global World,” was based on the technologies of systems science and engineering, human-machine systems, and cybernetics. Applications were drawn from service robotics, manufacturing automation, radio-frequency identification, brain-interface systems, the smart grid, and integrated digital services. The lecture was intended to provide an overview of the field of intelligent systems for my diverse audience of IEEE and SAIEE members, university students, and electrical engineers from local power and communication systems companies.

In Pretoria, I also attended a meeting with committee members of the newly formed South Africa Chapter of the SMC Society. We discussed how to grow IEEE membership within South Africa by creating special-interest technology groups. Currently there are three such groups: enterprise information systems, ontologies, and information security.

I also addressed the Meraka Institute’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on the Pretoria campus, with 75 technical staff members in the audience. The lecture was presented by the newly established IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Chapter in Pretoria.

During my three weeks in South Africa, I traveled to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and Cape Town; along the Garden Route to George and Port Elizabeth; and then to East London, Durbin, and Secunda. It was a demanding itinerary that involved half-day drives and a half dozen flights. I gave my final lecture at the University of Witwatersrand on 30 September to an audience of 250, including the entire leadership of the SAIEE.

According to Saurabh Sinha, chair of the IEEE South Africa Section, my lecture tour has led to renewed interest and understanding by South African engineers and technologists of distributed and intelligent systems. Moreover, Sinha says, it has increased cooperation between members of the SAIEE and IEEE that will further advance the goals of both organizations.

I recommend that other IEEE chapters, sections, and regions invite distinguished lecturers to their events and leverage visits by cooperating with other professional societies. The IEEE Distinguished Lecturer Program Website lists speakers by their society and council affiliations, with direct links to the abstracts and biographies of speakers from 35 IEEE societies and councils.

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