Wendy Hall – From Turing Machines to Social Machines: Web Consciousness?

Wednesday, May 30th, 4p.m.,  Room W-5215, UQAM


June 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Turing’s formalisation algorithm and computation laid the foundation for the development of computers and computing transformeding our lives over the last half century. His later work on the Turing Test asked whether machines can think and set the agenda for what are now called the cognitive sciences: What is the causal mechanism that gives individual intelligent systems the power to do what they can do?  But over the last twenty years the work of another visionary Englishman, Tim Berners-Lee, has led to another disruptive technology, the World Wide Web, which harnesses the power of computer technology combined with human intelligence. In “Weaving the Web” Tim described this combination of computer power and people power as a social machine.

The characteristics of social machines suggest that we are witnessing the development of a new type of computing machine that does not behave like a Turing machine. To study social machines we need to develop new methodologies and draw on many different disciplines, including cognitive science, social science, economics, law, and management as well as mathematics and computer science.  The characteristics of social machines give rise to interesting new questions about distributed cognition, collective intelligence and “extended mind”. The Turing test applies to individuals: Can there be a social consciousness that is distributed across minds and media?

Wendy Hall is Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, UK, and Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Applied Sciences. She was Head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) from 2002 to 2007. One of the first computer scientists to undertake serious research in multimedia and hypermedia, she has been at its forefront ever since. The influence of her work has been significant in many areas including digital libraries, the development of the Semantic Web, and the emerging research discipline of Web Science. Her current research includes applications of the Semantic Web and exploring the interface between the life sciences and the physical sciences. She is Managing Director of the Web Science Trust.

In addition to playing a prominent role in the development of her subject, she also helps shape science and engineering policy and education. Through her leadership roles on national and international bodies, she has shattered many glass ceilings, readily deploying her position on numerous national and international bodies to promote the role of women in SET, and acting as an important role model for others.
She became a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2009 UK New Year’s Honours list, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 2009. She was elected President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in July 2008, and the first person from outside North America to hold this position. Until July 2008, she was Senior Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, is currently a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, and is a founder member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council.  She was President of the British Computer Society (2003-4) and an EPSRC Senior Research Fellow from 1996 to 2002.

Institut des sciences cognitives

Fondé en 2003, l'Institut des Sciences Cognitives de l'UQAM vise à favoriser la recherche et le développement de compétences dans le domaine des sciences cognitives, à en partager les connaissances, à faciliter les échanges interdisciplinaires et à animer la communauté locale.


Institut des sciences cognitives
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