Students of Philosophy Association, Concordia University


Posted by admin | 11 January 2010 | Comments Off

Human as Computer?

The following talks will each occur at 20:30 in Room 104 of 2149 Mackay. We’ll be heading out to a pub for informal discussion afterward. Hope to see you there!!

January 12 – Professor Peter Grogono, Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Concordia

Peter Grogono came to Concordia in 1976. He joined the Department of Computer and Software Engineering in 1984 and was promoted to Professor in 2002. Before joining Concordia, he worked in several areas of the software industry, including pattern recognition, operating systems, electronic music, engineering, and accounting. He is currently working on two exploratory projects: a workbench for experiments in artificial embryogeny and a programming language based on concurrent processes.

His talk will be on: “What makes a computer program interesting?”

“Computers are used mostly as tools. They are programmed to perform a particular task, and they perform that task with various degrees of efficiency, reliability, and user-friendliness. When a computer behaves in an unexpected way, it is usually because something has gone wrong. Since a computer program is just a list of instructions, and the computer executes them meticulously, none of this should be surprising. But suppose that we wanted a program to behave in unexpected ways. How might that be achieved?

Researchers in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and, more recently, Artificial Life (AL), attempt to obtain unexpected behaviour by simulating mental and biological activities. But, even in these fields, the results are often boring: a program designed to optimize achieves an optimal result; end of story.

I paraphrase my research goal as “make the computer do something interesting”. A program is interesting if it exhibits behaviour that is not a direct and obvious consequence of what the code actually says. I will discuss two programs that I developed in the expectation that they would do something interesting: a program that uses techniques from AI and another that uses ideas from AL. I will use these programs as a framework in which to address the potential capabilities and limitations of computers and robots.”

January 13 – Dr Frederic Bouchard – UDM Philosophy

“After completing a BA and MA in philosophy at the Université de Montréal (MA 2000), I completed a PhD in philosophy at Duke University (Ph.D. 2004) under the supervision of Alex Rosenberg (committee: Robert Brandon, Owen Flanagan and Dan McShea). I then went on to pursue a post-doc followship at the IHPST, University of Toronto under Paul Thompson’s supervision. I have been a professor at the Philosophy department, Université de Montréal, since 2005.

My research interest focus mainly on the concept of fitness and the role it plays in evolutionary theory. As a philosopher of biology I also examine other topics such as the nature of explanations in ecology, reductionism, the notions of laws and trends in biological explanations, and the concept of biological individuality. I try to link these concerns to broader concerns in philosophy of science.”

His talk will be on: “The real and false differences between tools, organs and organisms”

“Evolution by natural selection structures living systems in numerous and apparently strange ways. By examining some cases of symbiosis and colonial organisms, we will see how the distinctions between tools, organs, and organisms are often murkier than what we usually believe. We will discuss how these lessons should inform our thoughts concerning what it means to be a biological individual beyond our commonplace intuitions about individual organisms.”

January 14 – Dr Pierre Poirier – UQAM Philosophy

” I am a research-professor in the philosophy of cognitive science at the Université du Québec à Montréal, where I was hired in 2001. I have published in French and English on the philosophy of cognitive science, the philosophy of neuroscience and the philosophy of mind, as well as in Artificial Intelligence. Most of my time for the last two years has been spent developing UQAM’s Cognitive Science Institute, as its director. I am also currently heavily involved in our cognitive computer PhD science program, where I supervise many students doing all sorts of cool stuff, from artificial consciousness and emotions to auto-adaptive systems. Finally, with a former student of mine, I am currently preparing a book on the epistemology of modeling and simulation in science for a French publisher.”

His talk will be on: “Innateness and cognitive function: the view from AI”

“The question whether some of our cognitive capacities can, in some sense, be viewed as innate is a vexing issue over which ink is still being spilled (see, e.g., Griffiths and Machery 2008). The relation between evolutionary psychology and the concept of innateness is similar to what many feel toward their significant other: can’t live with him/her, can’t live without him/her. However, there are optimization techniques in AI that correspond to both positions in the debate (innate versus acquired) and I propose to transpose the debate over to these, where the issues can be made clearer. As we’ll see, both positions can then claim victories, but the most intriguing results are the counterintuitive relationship (at least from the philosopher’s armchair) they bear when one technique is nested inside the other, and the possibility that cognitive capacities may evolve in part through evolution of the body.”


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