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AISB event Bulletin Item

CALL FOR PAPERS: AISB Symposium on Computing and Philosophy: Is computation observer-relative?, AISB-50, 1-4 April 2014, Goldsmiths, London, UK

As part of the AISB-50 Annual Convention 2014 to be held at Goldsmiths,
University of London

The convention is organised by the Society for the Study of Artificial
Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB)


One of the claims integral to John Searle?s critique of computational
cognitive science and ?Strong AI? was that computation is
?observer-relative? or ?observer-dependent? (Searle, The Rediscovery of the
Mind, 1992). This claim has already proven to be very controversial in
cognitive science and AI (Endicott 1996; Coulter & Sharrock, Rey, and
Haugeland in Preston & Bishop (eds.), Views into the Chinese Room, 2002).

Those who come to the subject of computation via physics, for example,
often argue that computational properties are physical properties, that is,
that computation is ?intrinsic to physics?. On such views, computation is
comparable to the flow of information, where information is conceived of in
statistical terms, and thus computation is both observer-independent and
(perhaps) ubiquitous. Connected with this are related issues about
causality and identity (including continuity of), as well as the question
of alternative formulations of information.

This symposium seeks to evaluate arguments, such as (but not limited to)
Searle?s, which bear directly on the question of what kind of processes and
properties computational processes and properties are. It thus seeks to
address the general question ?What is computation?? in a somewhat indirect
way. Questions that might be tackled include: Are computational properties
syntactic properties? Are syntactic properties discovered, or assigned? If
they must be assigned, as Searle argues, does this mean they are or can be
assigned arbitrarily? Might computational properties be universally
realized? Would such universal realizability be objectionable, or
trivialise computationalism? Is syntax observer-relative? What kinds of
properties (if any) are observer-relative or observer-dependent? Is
observer-relativity a matter of degree? Might the question of whether
computation is observer-relative have different answers depending on what
is carrying out the computation in question? Might the answer to this
question be affected by the advent of new computing technologies, such as
biologically- and physically-inspired models of computation? Is it time to
start distinguishing between different meanings of ?computation?, or is
there still mileage in the idea that some single notion of computation is
both thin enough to cover all the kinds of activities we call
computational, and yet still informative (non-trivial)? Does Searle?s idea
that syntax is observer-relative serve to support, or instead to undermine,
his famous ?Chinese Room argument??


Questions of ontology and epistemology


Is computation an observer relative phenomenon? What implications do
answers to this question have for the doctrine of computationalism?


Does computation (the unfolding process of a computational system) define a
natural kind? If so, how do we differentiate the computational from the


To what extent and in what ways can we say that computation is taking place
in natural systems? Are the laws of natural processes computational? Does a
rock implement every input-less FSA (Putnam, Chalmers)? Is the evolution of
the universe computable as the output of an algorithm? I.e. is the temporal
evolution of a state of the universe a digital informational process akin
to what goes on in the circuitry of a computer? Digital ontology' (Zuse),
"the nature of the physical universe is ultimately discrete"; cf. Kant's
distinction - from the antinomies of pure reason - of "simple parts" and no
simple parts; the discrete and the analogue.


Computation in machines and computation in nature; Turing versus non-Turing


Investigating the difference between formal models of physical and
biological systems and physical/biological reality-in-itself and the
implication(s) for theory of mind / cognition.

(a)  The study of 'computation' using natural processes / entities (i.e.
machines not exclusively based on [man-made] silicon-based architectures).
(b)  What is the underlying nature of such natural [physical/biological]
computational processes? I.e. are the laws of natural processes
computational at their very core OR merely contingently computational
because the mathematical language we use to express them is biased towards
being computational?


Submissions must be full papers and should be sent via EasyChair:

Text editor templates from a previous convention can be found at: <>

We request that submitted papers are limited to eight pages. Each paper
will receive at least two reviews. Selected papers will be published in the
general proceedings of the AISB Convention, with the proviso that at least
ONE author attends the symposium in order to present the paper and
participate in general symposium activities.


       i. Full paper submission deadline: 3 January 2014

       ii. Notification of acceptance/rejection decisions: 3 February 2014

       iii. Final versions of accepted papers (Camera ready copy): 24
February 2014

       iv. Convention: 1st - 4th April 2014, Goldsmiths, University of
London, UK [symposium date to be confirmed]


There will be separate proceedings for each symposium, produced before the
Congress, and available to conference delegates. In previous years there
have been awards for the best student paper, and limited student bursaries.
These details will be circulated as and when they become available. Authors
of a selection of the best papers will be invited to submit an extended
version of the work to a journal special issue.


Symposium Chair: Dr. John Preston, Department of Philosophy, The University
of Reading, Reading, UK.


                   tel. +44 (0) 118 378 7327

                   web page: 

Symposium Executive-Officer and OC member: Dr. Yasemin J. Erden, CBET, St
Mary's University College, Twickenham, UK.


tel: +44 (0) 208 224 4250

web page: 

Symposium OC Member: Prof. Mark Bishop, Department of Computing,
Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK.


tel: +44 (0) 207 078 5048

web page: 

Symposium OC member: Prof. Slawomir J Nasuto, School of Systems
Engineering, University of Reading, Reading, UK.


tel: +44 (0) 118 378 6701

web page: 




Dr Mark Coeckelbergh (University of Twente, NL)
Prof. S. Barry Cooper (University of Leeds, UK)
Dr. Anthony Galton (University of Exeter, UK)
Dr Bob Kentridge (Durham University, UK)
Dr Stephen Rainey (St Mary's University College, UK)
Dr Mark Sprevak (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Prof. Michael Wheeler (University of Stirling, UK)