[FOM] The 7th AISB Symposium on Computing and Philosophy: Is computation observer-relative?

S Barry Cooper pmt6sbc at maths.leeds.ac.uk
Fri Nov 15 15:19:02 EST 2013

***full paper submission deadline: 3 January 2014***

The 7th AISB Symposium on Computing and Philosophy:
Is computation observer-relative?

AISB-50, Goldsmiths, London, 1-4 April 2014

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 non-computational?


      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
      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 computation


      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

      (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.
                              email: j.m.preston at reading.ac.uk
                              tel. +44 (0) 118 378 7327
                              web page: <http://

      Symposium Executive-Officer and OC member: Dr. Yasemin J. Erden, CBET,
      St Mary's University College, Twickenham, UK.
                        email: yj.erden at smuc.ac.uk
                        tel: +44 (0) 208 224 4250
                        web page:

      Symposium OC Member: Prof. Mark Bishop, Department of Computing,
      Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK.
                        email: m.bishop at gold.ac.uk
                        tel: +44 (0) 207 078 5048
                        web page: <http://www.gold.ac.uk/computing/staff/m-bishop/>

      Symposium OC member: Prof. Slawomir J Nasuto, School of Systems
      Engineering, University of Reading, Reading, UK.
                        email: s.j.nasuto at reading.ac.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)

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