The European chapter of the International Association for Computing and Philosophy (IACAP) held its yearly conference E-CAP in Montpellier, France. I am still delighted and honoured to have been invited to the conference again. This year, I did not give a talk, but became a member of the E-CAP steering committee.
This conference introduced for the first time Wiki-Debate, a new tool that allows commenting and discussing the accepted abstracts. E-CAP 2008 was a trial run for this new kind of conference preparation and participation. At last year’s E-CAP 2007 (see my blog entries , , , and ) I was lucky to discuss the concept of Wiki-Debate with Jean Sallantin, this year’s conference chair. I had pointed Jean to Stéphane Lauriére at XWiki. After that, Jean and I had, unfortunately, lost contact to each other. I was happily surprised about seeing Wiki-Debate implemented. I look forward to working on its improvement as Wiki-Debate is intended to be used at E-CAP 2009 organised by Jordi Vallverdú in Barcelona.
The programme of the conference was manifold. Typical for a multi-disciplinary conference.
Introduction and closing were a bit too informal for my liking, but one got used to this stress-free way of running a conference over the three days 🙂
Initially, it was planned to organise the agendas of days two and three according to the interests stated in Wiki-Debate by conference participants. But as the implementation was running a bit late a prepared agenda needed to be used instead. There were several complaints from participants that they had trouble to plan their travel itineraries because there was no agenda outline whatsoever on the website. We will take care of this and a lack of transparency about what was going on next year.
From the many interesting talks I would like to mention just two:
Carson Reynolds, MIT alumni and Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo, discussed the question of whether perception is bodily and how perception can be manipulated. Migraines and artificial sensors such as cochlear implants (hearing aide) give evidence that perception is bodily. Additional support is provided by artificial synesthesia or fusion of senses, e.g., when sounds are smelled or colours are heard. The goal of this research is to use the ability of our body to learn to react to new stimuli, to produce new sensations / perception that do not exist yet. Carson showed a short (and quite funny) video where test participants wore blindfolds. Around the head they wore a number of sensor-actor units that can detect the distance of another object. The closer an object is to the head the stronger the actor vibrated. The test person easily avoids other objects based on which sensors vibrates and how strong the vibration is. They learn to use the new sensation. Very entertaining and very interesting.
Another very interesting talk was given be Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, Professor at Paris VI university, on „The Soul-Machine Quarrel“. This talk was in part lecture-like, in the most positive sense as it wrapped up philosophical discussions of a few thousand years with a clear focus. Jean-Gabriel compared definitions of „soul“ given by Descartes as well as Aristotle, where the first attributes a soul only to humans and the latter distinguished three levels of soul. He then poses the question whether machines can possess a soul and of which kind that possibly would be. In the end, the talk left the answer open, but the talk was nevertheless thought-provoking.
I am looking very much forward to next years conference with the full intention of submitting an abstract this time.