School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM CoSy project CogX project

Notes for Tutorial Presentation at The AAAI 2011 Conference

(Likely to be revised and expanded.)
San Francisco Aug 7-11 2011

This file is
From time to time a (slightly messy) PDF version will be generated
(thanks to 'html2ps' and 'ps2pdf'), available here, suitable for printing:

The full list of tutorials is
The main conference web site is

Philosophy as AI and AI as Philosophy


Those who are ignorant of philosophy are doomed to reinvent it -- badly.
Those who are also ignorant of computation will make an even worse mess of philosophy.


Tutorial MP 4: Monday, August 8, 2011, 2:00pm-6:00pm
(There will be a refreshment/discussion break for about 30 minutes,
probably starting around 4pm.)

Presenter Aaron Sloman
Honorary Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science
(But mainly a philosopher: See bio below.)
School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham.

I was very surprised that nothing was said about AI and Philosophy by any of the
speakers at the "anniversary panel" at the beginning of the main conference.

Despite this, attendance at the Tutorial was quite good, and people even came
back after the refreshment break!
NOTE: because the presentation was fairly interactive (essential for philosophy)
it did not follow the set of slides prepared in advance. But most of the
ideas presented are included in the slides.

The very relevant Meta-Morphogenesis project was not mentioned in this tutorial
because the idea came a few months later. See

Last updated: 29 Apr 2011; 2 May 2011; 8 Jul 2011; 31 Jul 2011; 3 Aug 2011; 10 Sep 2014
Installed: 5 Feb 2011

Downloadable papers and presentations related to this tutorial (All PDF)


Prerequisites For Attendance:

There are no prerequisites, except interest in how AI and philosophy are mutually relevant, and can provide insights into the nature of mind and intelligence.

A book that provides a lot of illustrative empirical data that is relevant to philosophical and engineering nature/nurture issues (e.g. for robot designers) is

    Annette Karmiloff-Smith,
        Beyond Modularity: A Developmental Perspective on Cognitive Science,
    MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992,
    (I am writing a growing set of notes on that book here.)

Request to those thinking of attending

If you are planning to attend it will help me with planning if you send me the following information,
to, with Subject [AAAI Philosophy Tutorial]


Although most AI research has engineering objectives, some researchers are primarily interested in the scientific study of minds, both natural and artificial. Some of the deep connections between both scientific and applied AI are linked to old problems in philosophy about the nature of mind and knowledge, what exists, how minds are related to matter, about causation and free will, about the nature of consciousness, about how language is possible, about creativity, and about whether non-biological machines can have minds. Such questions linking AI and philosophy motivated AI pioneers such as Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy and Herbert Simon, and are also addressed in the writings of Margaret Boden, Andy Clark, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, and others. Yet many questions remain unanswered and some philosophers and scientists think AI can contribute nothing except solutions to engineering problems.

The tutorial is an attempt to explain how some largely unnoticed relationships between AI, philosophy, biological evolution and individual development, along with some advances in computer systems engineering, provide the basis for major advances in several disciplines, including AI and Philosophy.

It will also attempt to show how some philosophical confusions, e.g. about "symbol grounding", about relations between embodiment and cognition, and about how theories can be evaluated, can hold up progress.

The presentation will be highly interactive and I hope provocative!

Those who are ignorant of philosophy are doomed to reinvent it -- badly.
(Apologies to Santayana.)




Here are some examples of topics that may be discussed.
The precise choice of topics will depend on who turns up for the tutorial, their backgrounds and interests.
Up to 2nd Aug 35 persons had registered for this tutorial.

Reading matter relevant to the tutorial. (To be extended)
(Please email me suggestions for additional items, or comments on those listed.)

Speaker Bio

First degree in mathematics and physics (CapeTown 1956),
DPhil in philosophy of mathematics (Oxford, 1962),
then worked in philosophy, cognitive science, AI and theoretical biology/psychology.
Now officially retired, but doing research full time.
Author of "The Computer Revolution in Philosophy" (1978) and many articles and book chapters,
contributor to the Poplog system for AI research and teaching.
Elected Fellow of AAAI, of ECCAI and of SSAISB.
Honorary DSc Sussex University (2006).
More details here.
Online papers and presentations:
        Some also on
Teaching and research support software
        "Thinky" Programming for young learners
        More examples and OVA download here
    SimAgent toolkit
    Videos of some talks

Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham