The 11th British Wittgenstein Society Conference Presents: Wittgenstein and AI

by Jason Owen

From July 29–31, 2022, the New College of the Humanities, London (NCH) will host the 11th British Wittgenstein Society Conference on the theme of Wittgenstein and AIDr. Brian Ball, NCH’s Head of Faculty in Philosophy, a member of NULab, and a core member of the Institute for Experiential AI at Northeastern University sat down with us to discuss what attendees can expect at this interdisciplinary event.

The conference will feature keynote addresses from three distinguished minds whose work has transcended the bridge between philosophical theories of knowledge and artificial intelligence. Additionally, there will be various symposia ranging from digital humanities to logic and computation, online language games, and more.

When asked what the conference will feature, Ball replied that it will “have lots of interdisciplinary opportunities.”

“The aim from the point of view of the British Wittgenstein Society was to get people to engage with Wittgenstein’s work who weren’t otherwise familiar with it or might overlook its salience for them,” said Ball.

Highlighting the broad range of papers and speakers from whom attendees can expect to hear, Ball touted the credentials of the conference’s keynote speakers.

“Anthony Grayling, who’s our principal and founder at NCH, he’s got a book on Wittgenstein, written a few years ago now. He’s sketched out some ideas that he wants to pursue around comparing the early and late phases of Wittgenstein’s philosophical thinking with the early and late phases of AI research. That should be illuminating. Anthony’s a great speaker.

“Juliet Floyd has been working on ideas in connection with Wittgenstein and Turing. Paula Sweeney … does philosophy of AI, but also has written on Wittgenstein, and, I think, the philosophy of robotics.”

Ball also noted that members of the digital Wittgenstein Archives project, the Turing Institute, and Bletchley Park, the once-top secret home of the World War II Codebreakers, will all be participating, as well as other members of NCH.

“It’s kind of an opportunity for us to showcase our own work. It’s an opportunity for us to do some professional development in the interdisciplinary space. … We house psychology and computer and data science within my faculty. So, we’re already doing interdisciplinary work here,” said Ball.

He added that NCH currently offers a master’s program in philosophy and artificial intelligence, and a computer master’s program that is being renamed as a master’s in responsible AI, in line with the priorities of the Institute for Experiential AI.

Ball touched upon the correlation between Wittgenstein’s philosophical theories and how they relate to artificial intelligence theories today.

“In some ways, some people would say his approach to be kind of critical for the prospects for AI,” said Ball, “but there have been some philosophers recently arguing that in fact, particularly in the new wave with deep learning, machine learning, that actually there’s some points of affinity between the Wittgensteinian philosophical outlook and those approaches to AI.”

The Wittgenstein and AI conference is already drawing interest and support from major professional bodies within the field of philosophy and beyond.

“The Society for Applied Philosophy is going to be a major sponsor,” said Ball. “We’re really pleased by that. They are encouraging authors and presenters to submit papers to them for publication. We also have the Mind Association and the Analysis Trust have agreed to support.”

If you’re interested in submitting a paper for consideration, there’s still time to apply. Submissions are due by April 1, 2022. Submissions should include a title, an abstract of a maximum of 500 words (including foot- and endnotes, excluding the bibliography), and a list of three to five keywords. Submissions should be suitable for a presentation of 30 minutes, followed by a 10-minute Q&A, and be suitable for blind review. All submissions should be sent through EasyChair.

Full registration information with a list of invited symposiasts, keynote speakers, and the scheduled symposia can be found at the Wittgenstein and AI website. To learn more about Brian Ball or how his area of expertise may help your business, visit the Institute for Experiential AI.