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Computing & Philosophy & Bio Machine hybrids

02/07/2012 - 06/07/2012

University of Birmingham, Birmingham UK

The 4th AISB: Turing’s famous question ‘can machines think?’ raises parallel questions about what it means to say of us humans that we think. More broadly, what does it mean to say that we are thinking beings? In this way we can see that Turing’s question about the potential of machines raises substantial questions about the nature of human identity. ‘If’, we might ask, ‘intelligent human behaviour could be successfully imitated, then what is there about our flesh and blood embodiment that need be regarded as exclusively essential to either intelligence or human identity?’.

This and related questions come to the fore when we consider the way in which our involvement with and use of machines and technologies, as well as their involvement in us, is increasing and evolving. This is true of few more than those technologies that have a more intimate and developing role in our lives, such as implants and prosthetics (e.g. neuroprosthetics).

Turing’s famous question ‘can machines think?’ raises parallel questions about what it means to say of us humans that we think. More broadly, what does it mean to say that we are thinking beings? In this way we can see that Turing’s question about the potential of machines raises substantial questions about the nature of human identity. ‘If’, we might ask, ‘intelligent human behaviour could be successfully imitated, then what is there about our flesh and blood embodiment that need be regarded as exclusively essential to either intelligence or human identity?’. This and related questions come to the fore when we consider the way in which our involvement with and use of machines and technologies, as well as their involvement in us, is increasing and evolving. This is true of few more than those technologies that have a more intimate and developing role in our lives, such as implants and prosthetics (e.g. neuroprosthetics).
 
The Symposium will cover key areas relating to developments in implants and prosthetics, including:
 • How new developments in artificial intelligence (AI) / computational intelligence (CI) look set to develop implant technology (e.g. swarm intelligence for the control of smaller and smaller components)
 • Developments of implants and prosthetics for use in human,  primate and non-primate animals
 • The nature of human identity and how implants may impact on it (involving both conceptual and ethical questions)
 • The identification of, and debate surrounding, distinctions drawn between improvement or repair (e.g. for medical reasons), and enhancement or “upgrading” (e.g. to improve performance) using implants/prosthetics
 • What role other emerging, and converging, technologies may have on the development of implants (e.g. nanotechnology or biotechnology)

But the story of identity does not end with human implants and neuroprosthetics. In the last decade, huge strides have been made in ‘animat’ devices. These are robotic machines with both active biological and artificial (e.g. electronic, mechanical or robotic) components. Recently one of the organisers of this symposium, Slawomir Nasuto, in partnership with colleagues Victor Becerra, Kevin Warwick and Ben Whalley, developed an autonomous robot (an animat) controlled by cultures of living neural cells, which in turn were directly coupled to the robot's actuators and sensory inputs.

This work raises the question of whether such ‘animat’ devices (devices, for example, with all the flexibility and insight of intelligent natural systems) are constrained by the limits (e.g. those of Turing Machines) identified in classical a priori arguments regarding standard ‘computational systems’.

Both neuroprosthetic augmentation and animats may be considered as biotechnological hybrid systems. Although seemingly starting from very different sentient positions, the potential convergence in the relative amount and importance of biological and technological components in such systems raises the question of whether such convergence would be accompanied by a corresponding convergence of their respective teleological capacities; and what indeed the limits noted above could be.
 
Suggested topics (in relation to computing and philosophy as pertaining to bio-machine hybrids include, but are not limited to):
 • Cognitive science;
 • Artificial intelligence; the Turing test; machine understanding; Searle’s Chinese Room argument;
 • Foundations of computing;
 • Simulation of behaviour and agency;
 • Ambient intelligence;
 • Artificial life; computational biology;
 • Implant technology;
 • Biosemiotics;
 • Constructivism;
 • Second order cybernetics;
 • Enactivism and sensorimotor theories of perception;
 • Converging technologies (e.g. ICT, Nanotechnology, etc.);
 • Information / computer / nanotechnology ethics;
 • Cognitive / epigenetic robotics.

Overview and links

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