Category Archives: science philosophy

What’s humility got to do with being a ‘good thinker’?

Or, and this is a bit of a stretch, as Tina Turner once asked, “What’s love got to do with it?”

Eranda Jayawickreme, professor of Psychology & Senior Research Fellow, Program for Leadership and Character, Wake Forest University, answers the question about humility and more in an October 25, 2023 essay for The Conversation, Note: Links have been removed,

What does it mean to be a good thinker? Recent research suggests that acknowledging you can be wrong plays a vital role.

I had these studies in mind a few months ago when I was chatting with a history professor about a class she was teaching to first-year students here at Wake Forest University. As part of my job as a psychology professor who researches character – basically, what it means to be a good person – I often talk to my colleagues about how our teaching can develop the character of our students.

In this case, my colleague saw her class as an opportunity to cultivate character traits that would allow students to respectfully engage with and learn from others when discussing contentious topics. Wanting to learn about and understand the world is a distinctive human motivation. As teachers, we want our students to leave college with the ability and motivation to understand and learn more about themselves, others and their world. She wondered: Was there one characteristic or trait that was most important to cultivate in her students?

I suggested she should focus on intellectual humility. Being intellectually humble means being open to the possibility you could be wrong about your beliefs.

But is being humble about what you know or don’t know enough?

I now think my recommendation was incorrect. It turns out good thinking requires more than intellectual humility [emphasis mine] – and, yes, I see the irony that admitting this means I had to draw on my own intellectual humility.

One reason for my focus on intellectual humility was that without acknowledging the possibility that your current beliefs may be mistaken, you literally can’t learn anything new. While being open to being wrong is generally quite challenging – especially for first-year university students confronting the limits of their understanding – it is arguably the key first step in learning.

… was I right in recommending just a single trait? Is intellectual humility by itself enough to promote good thinking? When you zoom out to consider what is really involved in being a good thinker, it becomes clear that simply acknowledging that one could be wrong is not enough.

While part of being a good thinker involves recognizing one’s possible ignorance, it also requires an eagerness to learn, curiosity about the world, and a commitment to getting it right.

What other traits, then, should people strive to cultivate? The philosopher Nate King writes that being a good thinker involves possessing multiple traits, including intellectual humility, but also intellectual firmness, love of knowledge, curiosity, carefulness and open-mindedness.

Jayawickreme’s thought-provoking (word play!) October 25, 2023 essay doesn’t take long to read and it can also be found in an October 25, 2023 news item on phys.org.

I couldn’t resist,

Nature’s missing evolutionary law added in new paper by leading scientists and philosophers

An October 22, 2023 commentary by Rae Hodge for Salon.com introduces the new work with a beautiful lede/lead and more,

A recently published scientific article proposes a sweeping new law of nature, approaching the matter with dry, clinical efficiency that still reads like poetry.

“A pervasive wonder of the natural world is the evolution of varied systems, including stars, minerals, atmospheres, and life,” the scientists write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Evolving systems are asymmetrical with respect to time; they display temporal increases in diversity, distribution, and/or patterned behavior,” they continue, mounting their case from the shoulders of Charles Darwin, extending it toward all things living and not.

To join the known physics laws of thermodynamics, electromagnetism and Newton’s laws of motion and gravity, the nine scientists and philosophers behind the paper propose their “law of increasing functional information.”

In short, a complex and evolving system — whether that’s a flock of gold finches or a nebula or the English language — will produce ever more diverse and intricately detailed states and configurations of itself.

And here, any writer should find their breath caught in their throat. Any writer would have to pause and marvel.

It’s a rare thing to hear the voice of science singing toward its twin in the humanities. The scientists seem to be searching in their paper for the right words to describe the way the nested trills of a flautist rise through a vaulted cathedral to coalesce into notes themselves not played by human breath. And how, in the very same way, the oil-slick sheen of a June Bug wing may reveal its unseen spectra only against the brief-blooming dogwood in just the right season of sun.

Both intricate configurations of art and matter arise and fade according to their shared characteristic, long-known by students of the humanities: each have been graced with enough time to attend to the necessary affairs of their most enduring pleasures.

If you have the time, do read this October 22, 2023 commentary as Hodge waxes eloquent.

An October 16, 2023 news item on phys.org announces the work in a more prosaic fashion,

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes “a missing law of nature,” recognizing for the first time an important norm within the natural world’s workings.

In essence, the new law states that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexity. In other words, evolution is not limited to life on Earth, it also occurs in other massively complex systems, from planets and stars to atoms, minerals, and more.

It was authored by a nine-member team— scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Cornell University, and philosophers from the University of Colorado.

An October 16, 2023 Carnegie Science Earth and Planets Laboratory news release on EurekAlert (there is also a somewhat shorter October 16, 2023 version on the Carnegie Science [Carnegie Institution of Science] website), which originated the news item, provides a lot more detail,

“Macroscopic” laws of nature describe and explain phenomena experienced daily in the natural world. Natural laws related to forces and motion, gravity, electromagnetism, and energy, for example, were described more than 150 years ago. 

The new work presents a modern addition — a macroscopic law recognizing evolution as a common feature of the natural world’s complex systems, which are characterised as follows:

  • They are formed from many different components, such as atoms, molecules, or cells, that can be arranged and rearranged repeatedly
  • Are subject to natural processes that cause countless different arrangements to be formed
  • Only a small fraction of all these configurations survive in a process called “selection for function.”   

Regardless of whether the system is living or nonliving, when a novel configuration works well and function improves, evolution occurs. 

The authors’ “Law of Increasing Functional Information” states that the system will evolve “if many different configurations of the system undergo selection for one or more functions.”

“An important component of this proposed natural law is the idea of ‘selection for function,’” says Carnegie astrobiologist Dr. Michael L. Wong, first author of the study.

In the case of biology, Darwin equated function primarily with survival—the ability to live long enough to produce fertile offspring. 

The new study expands that perspective, noting that at least three kinds of function occur in nature. 

The most basic function is stability – stable arrangements of atoms or molecules are selected to continue. Also chosen to persist are dynamic systems with ongoing supplies of energy. 

The third and most interesting function is “novelty”—the tendency of evolving systems to explore new configurations that sometimes lead to startling new behaviors or characteristics. 

Life’s evolutionary history is rich with novelties—photosynthesis evolved when single cells learned to harness light energy, multicellular life evolved when cells learned to cooperate, and species evolved thanks to advantageous new behaviors such as swimming, walking, flying, and thinking. 

The same sort of evolution happens in the mineral kingdom. The earliest minerals represent particularly stable arrangements of atoms. Those primordial minerals provided foundations for the next generations of minerals, which participated in life’s origins. The evolution of life and minerals are intertwined, as life uses minerals for shells, teeth, and bones.

Indeed, Earth’s minerals, which began with about 20 at the dawn of our Solar System, now number almost 6,000 known today thanks to ever more complex physical, chemical, and ultimately biological processes over 4.5 billion years. 

In the case of stars, the paper notes that just two major elements – hydrogen and helium – formed the first stars shortly after the big bang. Those earliest stars used hydrogen and helium to make about 20 heavier chemical elements. And the next generation of stars built on that diversity to produce almost 100 more elements.

“Charles Darwin eloquently articulated the way plants and animals evolve by natural selection, with many variations and traits of individuals and many different configurations,” says co-author Robert M. Hazen of Carnegie Science, a leader of the research.

“We contend that Darwinian theory is just a very special, very important case within a far larger natural phenomenon. The notion that selection for function drives evolution applies equally to stars, atoms, minerals, and many other conceptually equivalent situations where many configurations are subjected to selective pressure.”

The co-authors themselves represent a unique multi-disciplinary configuration: three philosophers of science, two astrobiologists, a data scientist, a mineralogist, and a theoretical physicist.

Says Dr. Wong: “In this new paper, we consider evolution in the broadest sense—change over time—which subsumes Darwinian evolution based upon the particulars of ‘descent with modification.’”  

“The universe generates novel combinations of atoms, molecules, cells, etc. Those combinations that are stable and can go on to engender even more novelty will continue to evolve. This is what makes life the most striking example of evolution, but evolution is everywhere.”

Among many implications, the paper offers: 

  1. Understanding into how differing systems possess varying degrees to which they can continue to evolve. “Potential complexity” or “future complexity” have been proposed as metrics of how much more complex an evolving system might become
  2. Insights into how the rate of evolution of some systems can be influenced artificially. The notion of functional information suggests that the rate of evolution in a system might be increased in at least three ways: (1) by increasing the number and/or diversity of interacting agents, (2) by increasing the number of different configurations of the system; and/or 3) by enhancing the selective pressure on the system (for example, in chemical systems by more frequent cycles of heating/cooling or wetting/drying).
  3. A deeper understanding of generative forces behind the creation and existence of complex phenomena in the universe, and the role of information in describing them
  4. An understanding of life in the context of other complex evolving systems. Life shares certain conceptual equivalencies with other complex evolving systems, but the authors point to a future research direction, asking if there is something distinct about how life processes information on functionality (see also https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsif.2022.0810).
  5. Aiding the search for life elsewhere: if there is a demarcation between life and non-life that has to do with selection for function, can we identify the “rules of life” that allow us to discriminate that biotic dividing line in astrobiological investigations? (See also https://conta.cc/3LwLRYS, “Did Life Exist on Mars? Other Planets? With AI’s Help, We May Know Soon”)
  6. At a time when evolving AI systems are an increasing concern, a predictive law of information that characterizes how both natural and symbolic systems evolve is especially welcome

Laws of nature – motion, gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics – etc. codify the general behavior of various macroscopic natural systems across space and time. 

The “law of increasing functional information” published today complements the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy (disorder) of an isolated system increases over time (and heat always flows from hotter to colder objects).

* * * * *

Comments

“This is a superb, bold, broad, and transformational article.  …  The authors are approaching the fundamental issue of the increase in complexity of the evolving universe. The purpose is a search for a ‘missing law’ that is consistent with the known laws.

“At this stage of the development of these ideas, rather like the early concepts in the mid-19th century of coming to understand ‘energy’ and ‘entropy,’ open broad discussion is now essential.”

Stuart Kauffman
Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle WA

“The study of Wong et al. is like a breeze of fresh air blowing over the difficult terrain at the trijunction of astrobiology, systems science and evolutionary theory. It follows in the steps of giants such as Erwin Schrödinger, Ilya Prigogine, Freeman Dyson and James Lovelock. In particular, it was Schrödinger who formulated the perennial puzzle: how can complexity increase — and drastically so! — in living systems, while they remain bound by the Second Law of thermodynamics? In the pile of attempts to resolve this conundrum in the course of the last 80 years, Wong et al. offer perhaps the best shot so far.”

“Their central idea, the formulation of the law of increasing functional information, is simple but subtle: a system will manifest an increase in functional information if its various configurations generated in time are selected for one or more functions. This, the authors claim, is the controversial ‘missing law’ of complexity, and they provide a bunch of excellent examples. From my admittedly quite subjective point of view, the most interesting ones pertain to life in radically different habitats like Titan or to evolutionary trajectories characterized by multiple exaptations of traits resulting in a dramatic increase in complexity. Does the correct answer to Schrödinger’s question lie in this direction? Only time will tell, but both my head and my gut are curiously positive on that one. Finally, another great merit of this study is worth pointing out: in this day and age of rabid Counter-Enlightenment on the loose, as well as relentless attacks on the freedom of thought and speech, we certainly need more unabashedly multidisciplinary and multicultural projects like this one.”

Milan Cirkovic 
Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade, Serbia; The Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University [University of Oxford]

The natural laws we recognize today cannot yet account for one astounding characteristic of our universe—the propensity of natural systems to “evolve.” As the authors of this study attest, the tendency to increase in complexity and function through time is not specific to biology, but is a fundamental property observed throughout the universe. Wong and colleagues have distilled a set of principles which provide a foundation for cross-disciplinary discourse on evolving systems. In so doing, their work will facilitate the study of self-organization and emergent complexity in the natural world.

Corday Selden
Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University

The paper “On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems” provides an innovative, compelling, and sound theoretical framework for the evolution of complex systems, encompassing both living and non-living systems. Pivotal in this new law is functional information, which quantitatively captures the possibilities a system has to perform a function. As some functions are indeed crucial for the survival of a living organism, this theory addresses the core of evolution and is open to quantitative assessment. I believe this contribution has also the merit of speaking to different scientific communities that might find a common ground for open and fruitful discussions on complexity and evolution.

Andrea Roli
Assistant Professor, Università di Bologna.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems by Michael L. Wong, Carol E. Cleland, Daniel Arends Jr., Stuart Bartlett, H. James Cleaves, Heather Demarest, Anirudh Prabhu, Jonathan I. Lunine, and Robert M. Hazen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 120 (43) e2310223120 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2310223120 Published: October 16, 2023

This paper is open access.

Consciousness, energy, and matter

Credit: Rice University [downloaded from https://phys.org/news/2023-10-energy-consciousness-physics-thorny-topic.html]

There’s an intriguing approach tying together ideas about consciousness, artificial intelligence, and physics in an October 8, 2023 news item on phys.org,

With the rise of brain-interface technology and artificial intelligence that can imitate brain functions, understanding the nature of consciousness and how it interacts with reality is not just an age-old philosophical question but also a salient challenge for humanity.

An October 9, 2023 University of Technology Sydney (UTS) press release (also on EurekAlert but published on October 8, 2023), which originated the news item, delves further into the subject matter, Note: Links have been removed,

Can AI become conscious, and how would we know? Should we incorporate human or animal cells, such as neurons, into machines and robots? Would they be conscious and have subjective experiences? Does consciousness reduce to physicalism, or is it fundamental? And if machine-brain interaction influenced you to commit a crime, or caused a crime, would you be responsible beyond a reasonable doubt? Do we have a free will?

AI and computer science specialist Dr Mahendra Samarawickrama, winner of the Australian Computer Society’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Professional of the year, has applied his knowledge of physics and artificial neural networks to this thorny topic.

He presented a peer-reviewed paper on fundamental physics and consciousness at the 11th International Conference on Mathematical Modelling in Physical Sciences, Unifying Matter, Energy and Consciousness, which has just been published in the AIP (the American Institute of Physics) Conference Proceedings. 

“Consciousness is an evolving topic connected to physics, engineering, neuroscience and many other fields. Understanding the interplay between consciousness, energy and matter could bring important insights to our fundamental understanding of reality,” said Dr Samarawickrama.

“Einstein’s dream of a unified theory is a quest that occupies the minds of many theoretical physicists and engineers. Some solutions completely change existing frameworks, which increases complexity and creates more problems than it solves.

“My theory brings the notion of consciousness to fundamental physics such that it complements the current physics models and explains the time, causality, and interplay of consciousness, energy and matter.

“I propose that consciousness is a high-speed sequential flow of awareness subjected to relativity. The quantised energy of consciousness can interplay with matter creating reality while adhering to laws of physics, including quantum physics and relativity.

“Awareness can be seen in life, AI and even physical realities like entangled particles. Studying consciousness helps us be aware of and differentiate realities that exist in nature,” he said. 

Dr Samarawickrama is an honorary Visiting Scholar in the School of Computer Science at the University of Technology Sydney, where he has contributed to UTS research on data science and AI, focusing on social impact.

“Research in this field could pave the way towards the development of conscious AI, with robots that are aware and have the ability to think becoming a reality. We want to ensure that artificial intelligence is ethical and responsible in emerging solutions,” Dr Samarawickrama said.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper Samarawickrama presented at the 11th International Conference on Mathematical Modelling in Physical Sciences, Unifying Matter, Energy and Consciousness,

Unifying matter, energy and consciousness by Mahendra Samarawickrama. AIP Conf. Proc. Volume 2872, Issue 1, 28 September 2023, 110001 (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0162815

This paper is open access.

The researcher has made a video of his presentation and further information available,

It’s a little bit over my head but hopefully repeated viewings and readings will help me better understand Dr. Samarawickrama’s work.

Arithmetic and its biological roots

Randolph Grace’s (Professor of Psychology, University of Canterbury, England) August 14, 2023 essay for The Conversation delves into an interesting question,

Why have humans invented the same arithmetic, over and over again? Could arithmetic be a universal truth waiting to be discovered?

The point is made (from Grace’s August 14, 2023 essay), Note: A link has been removed,

Humans have been making symbols for numbers for more than 5,500 years. More than 100 distinct notation systems are known to have been used by different civilisations, including Babylonian, Egyptian, Etruscan, Mayan and Khmer.

The remarkable fact is that despite the great diversity of symbols and cultures, all are based on addition and multiplication. For example, in our familiar Hindu-Arabic numerals: 1,434 = (1 x 1000) + (4 x 100) + (3 x 10) + (4 x 1).

Why have humans invented the same arithmetic, over and over again? Could arithmetic be a universal truth waiting to be discovered?

Grace describes a biological phenomenon to support his proposal (from Grace’s August 14, 2023 essay), Note: Links have been removed,

Bees provide a clue

We proposed a new approach based on the assumption that arithmetic has a biological origin.

Many non-human species, including insects, show an ability for spatial navigation which seems to require the equivalent of algebraic computation. For example, bees can take a meandering journey to find nectar but then return by the most direct route, as if they can calculate the direction and distance home.

A graph that shows a bee's zig-zag flight and the direct route home.
Bees can integrate their zig-zag flight path to calculate the straightest route back to the hive. Nicola J. Morton, CC BY-SA

How their miniature brain (about 960,000 neurons) achieves this is unknown. These calculations might be the non-symbolic precursors of addition and multiplication, honed by natural selection as the optimal solution for navigation.

Arithmetic may be based on biology and special in some way because of evolution’s fine-tuning.

He goes on to describe how he and his colleagues tested their hypothesis (read the essay) and concludes with this (from Grace’s August 14, 2023 essay), Note: A link has been removed,

Although this structure [how our perception is structured] is shared with other animals, only humans have invented mathematics. It is humanity’s most intimate creation, a realisation in symbols of the fundamental nature and creativity of the mind.

In this sense, mathematics is both invented (uniquely human) and discovered (biologically-based). The seemingly miraculous success of mathematics in the physical sciences hints that our mind and the world are not separate, but part of a common unity.

The arc of mathematics and science points toward non-dualism, a philosophical concept that describes how the mind and the universe as a whole are connected, and that any sense of separation is an illusion. This is consistent with many spiritual traditions (Taoism, Buddhism) and Indigenous knowledge systems such as mātauranga Māori.

Here’s a link to (or PDF for Grace’s paper) and a citation for the paper,

The Psychological Scaffolding of Arithmetic by Matt Grice, Simon Kemp, Nicola J. Morton, Randolph C. Grace. Psychological Review DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000431 Advance online publication June 26, 2023

This paper is open access.

Georges Canguilhem’s influence on life sciences philosophy and ‘it’s all about Kant’

This July 5, 2023 Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) press release by José Tadeu Arantes (also on EurekAlert but published on July 3, 2023) slow walks us through a listing of French intellectuals and some history (which I enjoyed) before making a revelation,

The constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The definition dates from the 1940s, but even then the thinking behind it was hardly novel. Similar concepts can be found in antiquity, in Eastern as well as Western societies, but in Europe, the cradle of Western culture, the view that mental well-being was part of health enjoyed little prestige in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owing to a reductionist understanding of disease as strictly somatic (relating only to the body). This outlook eventually began to be questioned. One of its leading critics in the twentieth century was French philosopher and physician Georges Canguilhem (1904-1995).

A disciple of Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), a colleague of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Paul Nizan (1905-1940) and Raymond Aron (1905-1983), and a major influence on Michel Foucault (1926-1984), Canguilhem was one of the foremost French intellectuals of the postwar years. Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) were among the thinkers who took inspiration from his ideas.

Canguilhem began studying medicine in the mid-thirties and earned his medical doctorate in 1943, by which time he had already taught philosophy in high schools for many years (having qualified in 1927). Another significant tack in his life course occurred during World War Two. He had long been both a pacifist and an antifascist. Following the French surrender in 1940, he refused to continue teaching under the Vichy regime and joined the Resistance, fighting with the rural guerrillas of the Maquis. In this historically and politically complex period, he apparently set out to train as a physician in order to have practical experience as well as book learning and to work on the history of the life sciences. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille da la Résistance for organizing a field hospital while under attack in the Auvergne.

In an article published in the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Emiliano Sfara, who has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Montpellier and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil from 2018 to 2022, argues that Canguilhem’s concepts of “technique”, “technical activity” and “practice” derived from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790) and influenced Canguilhem’s decision to study medicine.

“Earlier historiographical research showed how Kant influenced Canguilhem, especially the concept of ‘knowledge’ developed in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as the unification of heterogeneous data by an organizing intellect, and the idea of the ‘organism’ as a totality of interdependent and interacting parts, inspired by the Critique of Judgment. I tried to show in the article the importance, and roots in Kant, of a third cluster of ideas relating to the concept of ‘technique’ in Canguilhem’s work, beginning in mid-thirties,” said Sfara, currently a researcher at the National Institute of Science and Technology for Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies in Ecology and Evolution (INCT IN-TREE), hosted by the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).

“Section 43 of Kant’s Critique of Judgment makes a distinction between technical capacity and science as a theoretical faculty. Technique is the subject’s concrete practice operating in a certain context, a vital movement of construction or manufacturing of objects and tools that enable a person to live in their environment. This is not reducible to science. Analogously, Canguilhem postulates that science is posterior to technique. Practice comes first; theory arises later. This movement is evident in art. True, the artist starts out with a project. But the development of the artwork isn’t confined to the project, which is reconstructed as the process unfolds. This practical element of the subject’s interaction with the environment, which has its roots in Kant’s theories, was very important to the evolution of Canguilhem’s thought. It even influenced his decision to study medicine, as well as the conception of medicine he developed.”

Sfara explained that while Canguilhem espoused the values of the Parti Radical in his youth, in the mid-thirties he moved left, without becoming a pro-Soviet Stalinist. Later on, according to some scholars who knew him and are still active (such as the Moroccan philosopher and mathematician Hourya Benis Sinaceur), Canguilhem gave primacy to the egalitarian principles symbolized by the French Republic’s motto Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

His main contributions were to medicine and philosophy of science. His most important work, The Normal and the Pathological (1966), is basically an expansion of his 1943 doctoral thesis. “In his original thesis, Canguilhem broke with part of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French medical tradition and formulated ideas that are very much part of medicine today. [emphasis mine] Taking a purely analytical and quantitative approach, physicians like François Broussais (1772-1838) believed disease resulted from a surplus or lack of some organic substance, such as blood. Bloodletting was regularly used as a form of treatment. France imported 33 million leeches from southern Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Canguilhem saw the organism as a totality that interacted with its environment [emphasis mine] rather than a mere aggregation of parts whose functioning depended only on a ‘normal’ amount of the right organic substances,” Safra said.

In Canguilhem, the movement changes. Instead of transiting from the part to the whole, he moves from the whole to the part (as does Kant in the Critique of Judgment). He views the organism not as a machine but as an integral self-regulating totality. Life cannot be deduced from physical and chemical laws. One must start from the living being to understand life. Practice is the bridge that connects this totality to the environment. At the same time as it changes the environment, practice changes the organism and helps determine its physiological states.

“So Canguilhem implies that in order to find a state called normal, i.e. healthy, a given organism has to adapt its own operating rules to the outside world in the course of interacting concretely and practically with the environment. A human organism, for example, is in a ‘normal’ state when its pulse slows sharply after a period of long daily running. A case in point is the long-distance runner, who has to train every day,” Safra said.

“For Canguilhem, disease is due to inadaptation between the part, the organism and the environment, and often manifests itself as a feeling of malaise. Adaptive mechanisms in the organism can correct pathological dysfunctions.”

The article resulted from Sfara’s postdoctoral research supervised by Márcio Suzuki and supported by FAPESP.

The article “From technique to normativity: the influence of Kant on Georges Canguilhem’s philosophy of life” is at: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40656-023-00573-8.

This text was originally published by FAPESP Agency according to Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-ND. Read the original here.https://agencia.fapesp.br/republicacao_frame?url=https://agencia.fapesp.br/study-shows-kants-influence-on-georges-canguilhem-who-anticipated-concepts-current-in-medicine-today/41794/&utm_source=republish&utm_medium=republish&utm_content=https://agencia.fapesp.br/study-shows-kants-influence-on-georges-canguilhem-who-anticipated-concepts-current-in-medicine-today/41794/

Even though you can find a link to the paper in the press release, here’s my version of a citation complete with link,

From technique to normativity: the influence of Kant on Georges Canguilhem’s philosophy of life by Emiliano Sfara .History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences volume 45, Article number: 16 (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40656-023-00573-8 Published: 06 April 2023

This paper is open access.

Should robots have rights? Confucianism offers some ideas

Fascinating although I’m not sure I entirely understand his argument,

This May 24, 2023 Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) news release (also on EurekAlert but published May 25, 2023) has Professor Tae Wan Kim’s clarification, Note: Links have been removed,

Philosophers and legal scholars have explored significant aspects of the moral and legal status of robots, with some advocating for giving robots rights. As robots assume more roles in the world, a new analysis reviewed research on robot rights, concluding that granting rights to robots is a bad idea. Instead, the article looks to Confucianism to offer an alternative.

The analysis, by a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), appears in Communications of the ACM, published by the Association for Computing Machinery.

“People are worried about the risks of granting rights to robots,” notes Tae Wan Kim, Associate Professor of Business Ethics at CMU’s Tepper School of Business, who conducted the analysis. “Granting rights is not the only way to address the moral status of robots: Envisioning robots as rites bearers—not a rights bearers—could work better.”

Although many believe that respecting robots should lead to granting them rights, Kim argues for a different approach. Confucianism, an ancient Chinese belief system, focuses on the social value of achieving harmony; individuals are made distinctively human by their ability to conceive of interests not purely in terms of personal self-interest, but in terms that include a relational and a communal self. This, in turn, requires a unique perspective on rites, with people enhancing themselves morally by participating in proper rituals.

When considering robots, Kim suggests that the Confucian alternative of assigning rites—or what he calls role obligations—to robots is more appropriate than giving robots rights. The concept of rights is often adversarial and competitive, and potential conflict between humans and robots is concerning.

“Assigning role obligations to robots encourages teamwork, which triggers an understanding that fulfilling those obligations should be done harmoniously,” explains Kim. “Artificial intelligence (AI) imitates human intelligence, so for robots to develop as rites bearers, they must be powered by a type of AI that can imitate humans’ capacity to recognize and execute team activities—and a machine can learn that ability in various ways.”

Kim acknowledges that some will question why robots should be treated respectfully in the first place. “To the extent that we make robots in our image, if we don’t treat them well, as entities capable of participating in rites, we degrade ourselves,” he suggests.

Various non-natural entities—such as corporations—are considered people and even assume some Constitutional rights. In addition, humans are not the only species with moral and legal status; in most developed societies, moral and legal considerations preclude researchers from gratuitously using animals for lab experiments.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Should Robots Have Rights or Rites? by Tae Wan Kim, Alan Strudler. Communications of the ACM, June 2023, Vol. 66 No. 6, Pages 78-85 DOI: 10.1145/3571721

This work is licensed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ In other words, this paper is open access.

The paper is quite readable, as academic papers go, (Note: Links have been removed),

Boston Dynamics recently released a video introducing Atlas, a six-foot bipedal humanoid robot capable of search and rescue missions. Part of the video contained employees apparently abusing Atlas (for example, kicking, hitting it with a hockey stick, pushing it with a heavy ball). The video quickly raised a public and academic debate regarding how humans should treat robots. A robot, in some sense, is nothing more than software embedded in hardware, much like a laptop computer. If it is your property and kicking it harms no one nor infringes on anyone’s rights, it’s okay to kick it, although that would be a stupid thing to do. Likewise, there seems to be no significant reason that kicking a robot should be deemed as a moral or legal wrong. However, the question—”What do we owe to robots?”—is not that simple. Philosophers and legal scholars have seriously explored and defended some significant aspects of the moral and legal status of robots—and their rights.3,6,15,16,24,29,36 In fact, various non-natural entities—for example, corporations—are treated as persons and even enjoy some constitutional rights.a In addition, humans are not the only species that get moral and legal status. In most developed societies, for example, moral and legal considerations preclude researchers from gratuitously using animals for lab experiments. The fact that corporations are treated as persons and animals are recognized as having some rights does not entail that robots should be treated analogously.

Connie Lin’s May 26, 2023 article for Fast Company “Confucianism for robots? Ethicist says that’s better than giving them full rights” offers a brief overview and more comments from Kim. For the curious, you find out more about Boston Dynamics and Atlas here.

The physics of biology: “Nano comes to Life” by Sonia Contera

Louis Minion provides an overview of a newly published book, “Nano Comes to Life: How Nanotechnology is Transforming Medicine and the Future of Biology” by Sonia Contera, in a December 5, 2022 article for Physics World and notes this in his final paragraph,

Nano Comes to Life is aimed at both the general reader as well as scientists [emphasis mine], emphasizing and encouraging the democratization of science and its relationship to human culture. Ending on an inspiring note, Contera encourages us to throw off our fear of technology and use science to make a fairer and more prosperous future.

Minion notes elsewhere in his article (Note: Links have been removed),

Part showcase, part manifesto, Sonia Contera’s Nano Comes to Life makes the ambitious attempt to convey the wonder of recent advances in biology and nanoscience while at the same time also arguing for a new approach to biological and medical research.

Contera – a biological physicist at the University of Oxford – covers huge ground, describing with clarity a range of pioneering experiments, including building nanoscale robots and engines from self-assembled DNA strands, and the incremental but fascinating work towards artificially grown organs.

But throughout this interesting survey of nanoscience in biology, Contera weaves a complex argument for the future of biology and medicine. For me, it is here the book truly excels. In arguing for the importance of physics and engineering in biology, the author critiques the way in which the biomedical industry has typically carried out research, instead arguing that we need an approach to biology that respects its properties at all scales, not just the molecular.

This book was published in hard cover in 2019 and in paperback in 2021 (according to Sonia Contera’s University of Oxford Department of Physics profile page), so, I’m not sure why there’s an article about it in December 2022 but I’m glad to learn of the book’s existence.

Princeton University Press, which published Contera’s book, features a November 1, 2019 interview (from the Sonia Contera on Nano Comes to Life webpage),

What is the significance of the title of the book? What is the relationship between biology and nanotechnology?

SC: Nanotechnology—the capacity to visualize, manipulate, and interact with matter at the nanometer scale—has been engaged with and inspired by biology from its inception in the 1980s. This is primarily because the molecular players in biology, and the main drug and treatment targets in medicine—proteins and DNA—are nanosize. Since the early days of the field, a main mission of nanotechnologists has been to create tools that allow us to interact with key biological molecules one at a time, directly in their natural medium. They strive to understand and even mimic in their artificial nanostructures the mechanisms that underpin the function of biological nanomachines (proteins). In the last thirty years nanomicroscopies (primarily, the atomic force microscope) have unveiled the complex dynamic nature of proteins and the vast numbers of tasks that they perform. Far from being the static shapes featured in traditional biochemistry books, proteins rotate to work as nanomotors; they  literally perform walks to transport cargo around the cell. This enables an understanding of molecular biology that departs quite radically from traditional biochemical methods developed in the last fifty years. Since the main tools of nanotechnology were born in physics labs, the scientists who use them to study biomolecules interrogate those molecules within the framework of physics. Everyone should have the experience of viewing atomic force microscopy movies of proteins in action. It really changes the way we think about ourselves, as I try to convey in my book.

And how does physics change the study of biology at the nanoscale?

SC: In its widest sense the physics of life seeks to understand how the rules that govern the whole universe  led to the emergence of life on Earth and underlie biological behaviour. Central to this study are the molecules (proteins, DNA, etc.  that underpin biological processes. Nanotechnology enables the investigation of the most basic mechanisms of their functions, their engineering principles, and ultimately mathematical models that describe them. Life on Earth probably evolved from nanosize molecules that became complex enough to enable replication, and evolution on Earth over billions of years has created the incredibly sophisticated nanomachines  whose complex interactions constitute the fabric of the actions, perceptions, and senses of all living creatures. Combining the tools of nanotech with physics to study the mechanisms of biology is also inspiring the development of new materials, electronic devices, and applications in engineering and medicine.

What consequences will this have for the future of biology?

SC: The incorporation of biology (including intelligence) into the realm of physics facilitates a profound and potentially groundbreaking cultural shift, because it places the study of life within the widest possible context: the study of the rules that govern the cosmos. Nano Comes to Life seeks to reveal this new context for studying life and the potential for human advancement that it enables. The most powerful message of this book is that in the twenty-first century life can no longer be considered just the biochemical product of an algorithm written in genes (one that can potentially be modified at someone’s convenience); it must be understood as a complex and magnificent (and meaningful) realization of the laws that created the universe itself. The biochemical/genetic paradigm that dominated most of the twentieth century has been useful for understanding many biological processes, but it is insufficient to explain life in all its complexity, and to unblock existing medical bottlenecks. More broadly, as physics, engineering, computer science, and materials science merge with biology, they are actually helping to reconnect science and technology with the deep questions that humans have asked themselves from the beginning of civilization: What is life? What does it mean to be human when we can manipulate and even exploit our own biology? We have reached a point in history where these questions naturally arise from the practice of science, and this necessarily changes the sciences’ relationship with society.

We are entering a historic period of scientific convergence, feeling an urge to turn our heads to the past even as we walk toward the future, seeking to find, in the origin of the ideas that brought us here, the inspiration that will allow us to move forward. Nano Comes to Life focuses on the science but attempts to call attention to the potential for a new intellectual framework to emerge at the convergence of the sciences, one that scientists, engineers, artists, and thinkers should tap to create narratives and visions of the future that midwife our coming of age as a technological species. This might be the most important role of the physics of life that emerges from our labs: to contribute to the collective construction of a path to the preservation of human life on Earth.

You can find out more about Contera’s work and writing on her University of Oxford Department of Physics profile page, which she seems to have written herself. I found this section particularly striking,

I am also interested in the relation of physics with power, imperialism/nationalism, politics and social identities in the XIX, XX and XXI centuries, and I am starting to write about it, like in this piece for Nature Review Materials : “Communication is central to the mission of science”  which explores science comms in the context of the pandemic and global warming. In a recent talk at Fundacion Telefonica, I explored the relation of national, “East-West”, and gender identity and physics, from colonialism to the Manhattan Project and the tech companies of the Silicon Valley of today, can be watched in Spanish and English (from min 17). Here I explore the future of Spanish science and world politics at Fundacion Rafael del Pino (Spanish).

The woman has some big ideas! Good, we need them.

BTW, I’ve posted a few items that might be of interest with regard to some of her ideas.

  1. Perimeter Institute (PI) presents: The Jazz of Physics with Stephon Alexander,” this April 5, 2023 posting features physicist Stephon Alexander’s upcoming April 14, 2023 presentation (you can get on the waiting list or find a link to the livestream) and mentions his 2021 book “Fear of a Black Universe; An Outsider’s Guide to the Future of Physics.”
  2. There’s also “Scientists gain from communication with public” posted on April 6, 2023.

A robot with body image and self awareness

This research is a rather interesting direction for robotics to take (from a July 13, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily),

As every athletic or fashion-conscious person knows, our body image is not always accurate or realistic, but it’s an important piece of information that determines how we function in the world. When you get dressed or play ball, your brain is constantly planning ahead so that you can move your body without bumping, tripping, or falling over.

We humans acquire our body-model as infants, and robots are following suit. A Columbia Engineering team announced today they have created a robot that — for the first time — is able to learn a model of its entire body from scratch, without any human assistance. In a new study published by Science Robotics,, the researchers demonstrate how their robot created a kinematic model of itself, and then used its self-model to plan motion, reach goals, and avoid obstacles in a variety of situations. It even automatically recognized and then compensated for damage to its body.

Courtesy Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

A July 13, 2022 Columbia University news release by Holly Evarts (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail, Note: Links have been removed,

Robot watches itself like an an infant exploring itself in a hall of mirrors

The researchers placed a robotic arm inside a circle of five streaming video cameras. The robot watched itself through the cameras as it undulated freely. Like an infant exploring itself for the first time in a hall of mirrors, the robot wiggled and contorted to learn how exactly its body moved in response to various motor commands. After about three hours, the robot stopped. Its internal deep neural network had finished learning the relationship between the robot’s motor actions and the volume it occupied in its environment. 

“We were really curious to see how the robot imagined itself,” said Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering and director of Columbia’s Creative Machines Lab, where the work was done. “But you can’t just peek into a neural network, it’s a black box.” After the researchers struggled with various visualization techniques, the self-image gradually emerged. “It was a sort of gently flickering cloud that appeared to engulf the robot’s three-dimensional body,” said Lipson. “As the robot moved, the flickering cloud gently followed it.” The robot’s self-model was accurate to about 1% of its workspace.

Self-modeling robots will lead to more self-reliant autonomous systems

The ability of robots to model themselves without being assisted by engineers is important for many reasons: Not only does it save labor, but it also allows the robot to keep up with its own wear-and-tear, and even detect and compensate for damage. The authors argue that this ability is important as we need autonomous systems to be more self-reliant. A factory robot, for instance, could detect that something isn’t moving right, and compensate or call for assistance.

“We humans clearly have a notion of self,” explained the study’s first author Boyuan Chen, who led the work and is now an assistant professor at Duke University. “Close your eyes and try to imagine how your own body would move if you were to take some action, such as stretch your arms forward or take a step backward. Somewhere inside our brain we have a notion of self, a self-model that informs us what volume of our immediate surroundings we occupy, and how that volume changes as we move.”

Self-awareness in robots

The work is part of Lipson’s decades-long quest to find ways to grant robots some form of self-awareness.  “Self-modeling is a primitive form of self-awareness,” he explained. “If a robot, animal, or human, has an accurate self-model, it can function better in the world, it can make better decisions, and it has an evolutionary advantage.” 

The researchers are aware of the limits, risks, and controversies surrounding granting machines greater autonomy through self-awareness. Lipson is quick to admit that the kind of self-awareness demonstrated in this study is, as he noted, “trivial compared to that of humans, but you have to start somewhere. We have to go slowly and carefully, so we can reap the benefits while minimizing the risks.”  

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Fully body visual self-modeling of robot morphologies by Boyuan Chen, Robert Kwiatkowski, Carl Vondrick and Hod Lipson. Science Robotics 13 Jul 2022 Vol 7, Issue 68 DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abn1944

This paper is behind a paywall.

If you follow the link to the July 13, 2022 Columbia University news release, you’ll find an approximately 25 min. video of Hod Lipson showing you how they did it. As Lipson notes discussion of self-awareness and sentience is not found in robotics programmes. Plus, there are more details and links if you follow the EurekAlert link.

Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence launched at Harvard University and University of Manchester pushes the boundaries of smart robotics and AI

Before getting to the two news items, it might be a good idea to note that ‘artificial intelligence (AI)’ and ‘robot’ are not synonyms although they are often used that way, even by people who should know better. (sigh … I do it too)

A robot may or may not be animated with artificial intelligence while artificial intelligence algorithms may be installed on a variety of devices such as a phone or a computer or a thermostat or a … .

It’s something to bear in mind when reading about the two new institutions being launched. Now, on to Harvard University.

Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence

A September 23, 2022 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) news release (also on EurekAlert) announces a symposium to launch a new institute close to Mark Zuckerberg’s heart,

On Thursday [September 22, 2022], leadership from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and Harvard University celebrated the launch of the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence at Harvard University with a symposium on Harvard’s campus. Speakers included CZI Head of Science Stephen Quake, President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow, Provost of Harvard University Alan Garber, and Kempner Institute co-directors Bernardo Sabatini and Sham Kakade. The event also included remarks and panels from industry leaders in science, technology, and artificial intelligence, including Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, Andy Jassy, Daniel Huttenlocher, Sam Altman, Joelle Pineau, Sangeeta Bhatia, and Yann LeCun, among many others.

The Kempner Institute will seek to better understand the basis of intelligence in natural and artificial systems. Its bold premise is that the two fields are intimately interconnected; the next generation of AI will require the same principles that our brains use for fast, flexible natural reasoning, and understanding how our brains compute and reason requires theories developed for AI. The Kempner Institute will study AI systems, including artificial neural networks, to develop both principled theories [emphasis mine] and a practical understanding of how these systems operate and learn. It will also focus on research topics such as learning and memory, perception and sensation, brain function, and metaplasticity. The Institute will recruit and train future generations of researchers from undergraduates and graduate students to post-docs and faculty — actively recruiting from underrepresented groups at every stage of the pipeline — to study intelligence from biological, cognitive, engineering, and computational perspectives.

CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mark Zuckerberg [chairman and chief executive officer of Meta/Facebook] said: “The Kempner Institute will be a one-of-a-kind institute for studying intelligence and hopefully one that helps us discover what intelligent systems really are, how they work, how they break and how to repair them. There’s a lot of exciting implications because once you understand how something is supposed to work and how to repair it once it breaks, you can apply that to the broader mission the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has to empower scientists to help cure, prevent or manage all diseases.”

CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Priscilla Chan said: “Just attending this school meant the world to me. But to stand on this stage and to be able to give something back is truly a dream come true … All of this progress starts with building one fundamental thing: a Kempner community that’s diverse, multi-disciplinary and multi-generational, because incredible ideas can come from anyone. If you bring together people from all different disciplines to look at a problem and give them permission to articulate their perspective, you might start seeing insights or solutions in a whole different light. And those new perspectives lead to new insights and discoveries and generate new questions that can lead an entire field to blossom. So often, that momentum is what breaks the dam and tears down old orthodoxies, unleashing new floods of new ideas that allow us to progress together as a society.”

CZI Head of Science Stephen Quake said: “It’s an honor to partner with Harvard in building this extraordinary new resource for students and science. This is a once-in-a-generation moment for life sciences and medicine. We are living in such an extraordinary and exciting time for science. Many breakthrough discoveries are going to happen not only broadly but right here on this campus and at this institute.”

CZI’s 10-year vision is to advance research and develop technologies to observe, measure, and analyze any biological process within the human body — across spatial scales and in real time. CZI’s goal is to accelerate scientific progress by funding scientific research to advance entire fields; working closely with scientists and engineers at partner institutions like the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub and Chan Zuckerberg Institute for Advanced Biological Imaging to do the research that can’t be done in conventional environments; and building and democratizing next-generation software and hardware tools to drive biological insights and generate more accurate and biologically important sources of data.

President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow said: “Here we are with this incredible opportunity that Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have given us to imagine taking what we know about the brain, neuroscience and how to model intelligence and putting them together in ways that can inform both, and can truly advance our understanding of intelligence from multiple perspectives.”

Kempner Institute Co-Director and Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and of Statistics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Sham Kakade said: “Now we begin assembling a world-leading research and educational program at Harvard that collectively tries to understand the fundamental mechanisms of intelligence and seeks to apply these new technologies for the benefit of humanity … We hope to create a vibrant environment for all of us to engage in broader research questions … We want to train the next generation of leaders because those leaders will go on to do the next set of great things.”

Kempner Institute Co-Director and the Alice and Rodman W. Moorhead III Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School Bernardo Sabatini said: “We’re blending research, education and computation to nurture, raise up and enable any scientist who is interested in unraveling the mysteries of the brain. This field is a nascent and interdisciplinary one, so we’re going to have to teach neuroscience to computational biologists, who are going to have to teach machine learning to cognitive scientists and math to biologists. We’re going to do whatever is necessary to help each individual thrive and push the field forward … Success means we develop mathematical theories that explain how our brains compute and learn, and these theories should be specific enough to be testable and useful enough to start to explain diseases like schizophrenia, dyslexia or autism.”

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our communities. Through collaboration, providing resources and building technology, our mission is to help build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

Principled theories, eh. I don’t see a single mention of ethicists or anyone in the social sciences or the humanities or the arts. How are scientists and engineers who have no training in or education in or, even, an introduction to ethics or social impacts or psychology going to manage this?

Mark Zuckerberg’s approach to these issues was something along the lines of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” I understand there have been changes but it took far too long to recognize the damage let alone attempt to address it.

If you want to gain a little more insight into the Kempner Institute, there’s a December 7, 2021 article by Alvin Powell announcing the institute for the Harvard Gazette,

The institute will be funded by a $500 million gift from Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, which was announced Tuesday [December 7, 2021] by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The gift will support 10 new faculty appointments, significant new computing infrastructure, and resources to allow students to flow between labs in pursuit of ideas and knowledge. The institute’s name honors Zuckerberg’s mother, Karen Kempner Zuckerberg, and her parents — Zuckerberg’s grandparents — Sidney and Gertrude Kempner. Chan and Zuckerberg have given generously to Harvard in the past, supporting students, faculty, and researchers in a range of areas, including around public service, literacy, and cures.

“The Kempner Institute at Harvard represents a remarkable opportunity to bring together approaches and expertise in biological and cognitive science with machine learning, statistics, and computer science to make real progress in understanding how the human brain works to improve how we address disease, create new therapies, and advance our understanding of the human body and the world more broadly,” said President Larry Bacow.

Q&A

Bernardo Sabatini and Sham Kakade [Institute co-directors]

GAZETTE: Tell me about the new institute. What is its main reason for being?

SABATINI: The institute is designed to take from two fields and bring them together, hopefully to create something that’s essentially new, though it’s been tried in a couple of places. Imagine that you have over here cognitive scientists and neurobiologists who study the human brain, including the basic biological mechanisms of intelligence and decision-making. And then over there, you have people from computer science, from mathematics and statistics, who study artificial intelligence systems. Those groups don’t talk to each other very much.

We want to recruit from both populations to fill in the middle and to create a new population, through education, through graduate programs, through funding programs — to grow from academic infancy — those equally versed in neuroscience and in AI systems, who can be leaders for the next generation.

Over the millions of years that vertebrates have been evolving, the human brain has developed specializations that are fundamental for learning and intelligence. We need to know what those are to understand their benefits and to ask whether they can make AI systems better. At the same time, as people who study AI and machine learning (ML) develop mathematical theories as to how those systems work and can say that a network of the following structure with the following properties learns by calculating the following function, then we can take those theories and ask, “Is that actually how the human brain works?”

KAKADE: There’s a question of why now? In the technological space, the advancements are remarkable even to me, as a researcher who knows how these things are being made. I think there’s a long way to go, but many of us feel that this is the right time to study intelligence more broadly. You might also ask: Why is this mission unique and why is this institute different from what’s being done in academia and in industry? Academia is good at putting out ideas. Industry is good at turning ideas into reality. We’re in a bit of a sweet spot. We have the scale to study approaches at a very different level: It’s not going to be just individual labs pursuing their own ideas. We may not be as big as the biggest companies, but we can work on the types of problems that they work on, such as having the compute resources to work on large language models. Industry has exciting research, but the spectrum of ideas produced is very different, because they have different objectives.

For the die-hards, there’s a September 23, 2022 article by Clea Simon in Harvard Gazette, which updates the 2021 story,

Next, Manchester, England.

Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI

Robotots take a break at a lab at The University of Manchester – picture courtesy of Marketing Manchester [downloaded from https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/manchester-ai-summit-aims-to-attract-experts-in-advanced-engineering-and-robotics/]

A November 22, 2022 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert) announces both a meeting and a new centre, Note: Links to the Centre have been retained; all others have been removed,

How humans and super smart robots will live and work together in the future will be among the key issues being scrutinised by experts at a new centre of excellence for AI and autonomous machines based at The University of Manchester.

The Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI will be a new specialist multi-disciplinary centre to explore developments in smart robotics through the lens of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous machinery.

The University of Manchester has built a modern reputation of excellence in AI and robotics, partly based on the legacy of pioneering thought leadership begun in this field in Manchester by legendary codebreaker Alan Turing.

Manchester’s new multi-disciplinary centre is home to world-leading research from across the academic disciplines – and this group will hold its first conference on Wednesday, Nov 23, at the University’s new engineering and materials facilities.

A  highlight will be a joint talk by robotics expert Dr Andy Weightman and theologian Dr Scott Midson which is expected to put a spotlight on ‘posthumanism’, a future world where humans won’t be the only highly intelligent decision-makers.

Dr Weightman, who researches home-based rehabilitation robotics for people with neurological impairment, and Dr Midson, who researches theological and philosophical critiques of posthumanism, will discuss how interdisciplinary research can help with the special challenges of rehabilitation robotics – and, ultimately, what it means to be human “in the face of the promises and challenges of human enhancement through robotic and autonomous machines”.

Other topics that the centre will have a focus on will include applications of robotics in extreme environments.

For the past decade, a specialist Manchester team led by Professor Barry Lennox has designed robots to work safely in nuclear decommissioning sites in the UK. A ground-breaking robot called Lyra that has been developed by Professor Lennox’s team – and recently deployed at the Dounreay site in Scotland, the “world’s deepest nuclear clean up site” – has been listed in Time Magazine’s Top 200 innovations of 2022.

Angelo Cangelosi, Professor of Machine Learning and Robotics at Manchester, said the University offers a world-leading position in the field of autonomous systems – a technology that will be an integral part of our future world. 

Professor Cangelosi, co-Director of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI, said: “We are delighted to host our inaugural conference which will provide a special showcase for our diverse academic expertise to design robotics for a variety of real world applications.

“Our research and innovation team are at the interface between robotics, autonomy and AI – and their knowledge is drawn from across the University’s disciplines, including biological and medical sciences – as well the humanities and even theology. [emphases mine]

“This rich diversity offers Manchester a distinctive approach to designing robots and autonomous systems for real world applications, especially when combined with our novel use of AI-based knowledge.”

Delegates will have a chance to observe a series of robots and autonomous machines being demoed at the new conference.

The University of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI will aim to: 

  • design control systems with a focus on bio-inspired solutions to mechatronics, eg the use of biomimetic sensors, actuators and robot platforms; 
  • develop new software engineering and AI methodologies for verification in autonomous systems, with the aim to design trustworthy autonomous systems; 
  • research human-robot interaction, with a pioneering focus on the use of brain-inspired approaches [emphasis mine] to robot control, learning and interaction; and 
  • research the ethics and human-centred robotics issues, for the understanding of the impact of the use of robots and autonomous systems with individuals and society. 

In some ways, the Kempner Institute and the Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI have very similar interests, especially where the brain is concerned. What fascinates me is the Manchester Centre’s inclusion of theologian Dr Scott Midson and the discussion (at the meeting) of ‘posthumanism’. The difference is between actual engagement at the symposium (the centre) and mere mention in a news release (the institute).

I wish the best for both institutions.

Philosophy and science in Tokyo, Japan from Dec. 1-2, 2022

I have not seen a more timely and à propos overview for a meeting/conference/congress that this one for Tokyo Forum 2022 (hosted by the University of Tokyo and South Korea’s Chey Institute for Advanced Studies),

Dialogue between Philosophy and Science: In a World Facing War, Pandemic, and Climate Change

In the face of war, a pandemic, and climate change, we cannot repeat the history of the last century, in which our ancestors headed down the road to division, global conflict, and environmental destruction.

How can we live more fully and how do we find a new common understanding about what our society should be? Tokyo Forum 2022 will tackle these questions through a series of in-depth dialogues between philosophy and science. The dialogues will weave together the latest findings and deep contemplation, and explore paths that could lead us to viable answers and solutions.

Philosophy of the 21st century must contribute to the construction of a new universality based on locality and diversity. It should be a universality that is open to co-existing with other non-human elements, such as ecosystems and nature, while severely criticizing the understanding of history that unreflectively identifies anthropocentrism with universality.

Science in the 21st century also needs to dispense with its overarching aura of supremacy and lack of self-criticism. There is a need for scientists to make efforts to demarcate their own limits. This also means reexamining what ethics means for science.

Tokyo Forum 2022 will offer multifaceted dialogues between philosophers, scientists, and scholars from various fields of study on the state and humanity in the 21st century, with a view to imagining and proposing a vision of the society we need.

Here are some details about the hybrid event from a November 4, 2022 University of Tokyo press release on EurekAlert,

The University of Tokyo and South Korea’s Chey Institute for Advanced Studies will host Tokyo Forum 2022 from Dec. 1-2, 2022. Under this year’s theme “Dialogue between Philosophy and Science,” the annual symposium will bring together philosophers, scientists and scholars in various fields from around the world for multifaceted dialogues on humanity and the state in the 21st century, while envisioning the society we need.

The event is free and open to the public, and will be held both on site at Yasuda Auditorium of the University of Tokyo and online via livestream. [emphases mine]

Keynote speakers lined up for the first day of the two-day symposium are former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos and Mariko Hasegawa, president of the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan.

Other featured speakers on the event’s opening day include renowned modern thinker and author Professor Markus Gabriel of the University of Bonn, and physicist Hirosi Ooguri, director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo and professor at the California Institute of Technology, who are scheduled to participate in the high-level discussion on the dialogue between philosophy and science.

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs will take part in a panel discussion, also on Day 1, on tackling global environmental issues with stewardship of the global commons — the stable and resilient Earth system that sustains our lives — as a global common value.

The four panel discussions slated for Day 2 will cover the role of world philosophy in addressing the problems of a globalized world; transformative change for a sustainable future by understanding the diverse values of nature and its contributions to people; the current and future impacts of autonomous robots on society; and finding collective solutions and universal values to pursue equitable and sustainable futures for humanity by looking at interconnections among various fields of inquiry.

Opening remarks will be delivered by University of Tokyo President Teruo Fujii and South Korea’s SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, on Day 1. Fujii and Chey Institute President Park In-kook will make closing remarks following the wrap-up session on the second and final day.

Tokyo Forum with its overarching theme “Shaping the Future” is held annually since 2019 to stimulate discussions on finding the best ideas for shaping the world and humanity in the face of complex situations where the conventional wisdom can no longer provide answers.

For more information about the program and speakers of Tokyo Forum 2022, visit the event website and social media accounts:

Website: https://www.tokyoforum.tc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/index.html

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UTokyo_forum

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UTokyo.tokyo.forum/

To register, fill out the registration form on the Tokyo Forum 2022 website (registration is free but required [emphasis mine] to attend the event): https://www.tokyo-forum-form.com/apply/audiences/en

I’m not sure how they are handling languages. I’m guessing that people are speaking in the language they choose and translations (subtitles or dubbing) are available. For anyone who may have difficulty attending due to timezone issues, there are archives for previous Tokyo Forums. Presumably 2022 will be added at some point in the future.