Out now: »Selection, Growth and Form. Turing’s Two Biological Paths towards Intelligent Machinery« in SHPS SI on »Robots and Living Organisms«

Hajo Greif, Adam Kubiak, and Paweł Stacewicz (2024). Selection, Growth and Form. Turing’s Two Biological Paths towards Intelligent Machinery. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 106: 126-135. Special Issue “Robots and Living Organisms: New Historical and Philosophical Perspectives”, edited by Marco Tamborini and Edoardo Datteri. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2024.05.017

Abstract: We inquire into the role of Turing’s biological thought in the development of his concept of intelligent machinery. We trace the possible relations between his proto- connectionist notion of ‘organising’ machines in Turing (1948) on the one hand and his mathematical theory of morphogenesis in developmental biology (1952) on the other. These works were concerned with distinct fields of inquiry and followed distinct paradigms of biological theory, respectively postulating analogues of Darwinian selection in learning and mathematical laws of form in organic pattern formation. Still, these strands of Turing’s work are related, first, in terms of being amenable in principle to his (1936) computational method of modelling. Second, they are connected by Turing’s scattered speculations about the possible bearing of learning processes on the anatomy of the brain. We argue that these two theories form an unequal couple that, from different angles and in partial fashion, point towards cognition as a biological and embodied phenomenon while, for reasons inherent to Turing’s computational approach to modelling, not being capable of directly addressing it as such. We explore ways in which these two distinct-but-related theories could be more explicitly and systematically connected, using von Neumann’s contemporaneous and related work on Cellular Automata and more recent biomimetic approaches as a foil. We conclude that the nature of ‘initiative’ and the mode of material realisation are the key issues that decide on the possibility of intelligent machinery in Turing.

The research presented in this article has been supported by National Science Centre (NCN) OPUS 19 grant no. 2020/37/B/HS1/01809. Open Access with NCN support.

HaPoC-7 in Warsaw

The 7th International Conference on the History and Philosophy of Computing (HaPoC-7), organised by the Philosophy of Computing Group at the Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences at Warsaw University of Technology from 18 through 20 October 2023, has come to a successful end. On this occasion, two of the local organisers, Paula Quinon and myself, were elected members of the new HaPoC Council (2023-2025).

More information about the conference can be found at  https://hapoc2023.sciencesconf.org/. This includes the conference programme and abstracts.

For more information about HaPoC as an organisation, please visit https://hapoc.org/ (with links to past conferences).

Out now: »Turing’s Biological Philosophy« in Philosophies SI on »Turing the Philosopher«

Hajo Greif, Adam Kubiak, and Paweł Stacewicz (2023). Turing’s Biological Philosophy. Morphogenesis, Mechanisms and Organicism. Philosophies 8, 2023, Article 8. Special Issue “Turing the Philosopher: Established Debates and New Developments”, edited by Diane Proudfoot and Zhao Fan. Open Access. DOI: 10.3390/philosophies8010008

Abstract: Alan M. Turing’s last published work and some posthumously published manuscripts were dedicated to the development of his theory of morphogenesis. In The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis (1952), he provided an elaborated mathematical formulation of the theory of the origins of biological form that had been first proposed by Sir D’Arcy Wendworth Thompson in On Growth and Form (1917/1942). While being his mathematically most detailed and systematically most ambitious effort, Turing’s morphogenetical writings also form the thematically most self-contained and philosophically least explored part of his work. We dedicate our inquiry to the reasons and the implications of Turing’s choice of biological topic and viewpoint. Thompson’s pioneering work in biological ‘structuralism’ was organicist in outlook and explicitly critical of the Darwinian approaches that were popular with Turing’s cyberneticist contemporaries – and partly used by Turing himself in his proto-connectionist models of learning. In particular, we will probe for possible factors in Turing’s choice that go beyond availability and acquaintance with Thompsons’ approach, in particular his quest for mechanistic, non-teleological explanations of how organisation emerges in nature that nonetheless leave room for a non-mechanistic view of nature.

Acknowledgement: The research presented in this publication was supported by NCN (National Science Centre) OPUS 19 grant ref. 2020/37/B/HS1/01809.

Out now: »Models, Algorithms, and the Subjects of Transparency« in PT-AI 2021

Hajo Greif (2022). Models, algorithms, and the subjects of transparency. In Philosophy and Theory of Artificial Intelligence 2021, V. C. Müller, ed., Springer, Cham, 2022, pp. 27–37. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-031-09153-7_3

Abstract: Concerns over epistemic opacity abound in contemporary debates on Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, it is not always clear to what extent these concerns refer to the same set of problems. We can observe, first, that the terms ‘transparency’ and ‘opacity’ are used either in reference to the computational elements of an AI model or to the models to which they pertain. Second, opacity and transparency might either be understood to refer to the properties of AI systems or to the epistemic situation of human agents with respect to these systems. While these diagnoses are independently discussed in the literature, juxtaposing them and exploring possible interrelations will help to get a view of the relevant distinctions between conceptions of opacity and their empirical bearing. In pursuit of this aim, two pertinent conditions affecting computer models in general and contemporary AI in particular are outlined and discussed: opacity as a problem of computational tractability and opacity as a problem of the universality of the computational method.

Acknowledgement: The research presented in this publication was supported by NCN (National Science Centre) OPUS 19 grant ref. 2020/37/B/HS1/01809.

NCN Grant »Turing, Ashby, and ›the Action of the Brain‹«

The Philosophy of Computing group is implementing NCN (National Science Centre) OPUS 19 grant ref. 2020/37/B/HS1/01809, which was awarded in November 2020. The project’s PI is Hajo Greif, the Co-investigator Paweł Stacewicz, the post-doc (hired October 2021) Adam Kubiak. The project is funded by NCN with PLN 767,130.– (approx. EUR 170,000.–) for three years (2021-2023), which involves a three-year postdoc position. The abstract can be downloaded from NCN here. More details on the project here.

Update 8 May, 2024: The project implementation period has been extended until January 2025.

Lecture Series »Thinking Machines: History, Present and Future of AI«

The international and interdisciplinary online lecture series »Thinking Machines: History, Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence« in Summer Term 2021 has been jointly hosted by the Research Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Deutsches Museum, the European New School of Digital Studies, and the Philosophy of Computing group, ICFO. Speakers include: Pamela McCorduck, Stephanie Dick, Shannon Vallor, Harry Collins, Wolfgang Bibel, Vincent Müller, Virginia Dignum, Kristian Kersting.

More details and full programme on the official website of the series.