Re: [wta-talk] Brief report on AGI-08

From: Natasha Vita-More (
Date: Sun Mar 09 2008 - 12:04:32 MDT

At 11:51 AM 3/8/2008, Ben wrote:
>Hi all,
>The AGI-08 conference ( occurred last weekend in Memphis...!
>I had hoped to write up a real scientific summary of AGI-08, but at
>the moment it doesn't look like I'll find the time, so instead I'll
>send out this briefer and more surface-level summary...

I'd like to say that this was one of my favorite conferences. The
location could not have been better - an environment of quality and
character. Just the right mix for the topic. Presentations were
informative and each speaker was well-versed and enthusiastic. I
loved the workshop - it was a little controversial and a lot of fun.

Thanks Ben and I look forward to AGI-09!


>Firstly, the conference went VERY well. The tone was upbeat, the
>discussions were animated and intelligent, and all in all there was a
>feel of real excitement about having so many AGI people in one place
>at one time.
>Attendance was good: We originally anticipated 80 registrants but had 120+.
>The conference room was a futuristic setting called "The Zone" that
>looked sorta like the Star Trek bridge -- with an excellent if mildly
>glitchy video system that, during Q&A sessions, showed the questioner
>up on a big screen in front of the room.
>The unconventional format (brief talks followed by long
>discussion/Q&A) sessions was both productive and popular. The whole
>thing was video-ed and at some point the video record will be made
>available online (I don't know the intended timing of this yet).
>The proceedings volume was released by IOS Press a few weeks before
>the conference and is a thick impressive-looking tome.
>The interdisciplinary aspect of the conference seemed to work well --
>e.g. the session on virtual-worlds AI was chaired by Sibley Verbeck
>(CEO of Electric Sheep Company) and the session on neural nets was
>chaired by Randal Koene (a neuroscientist from Boston University).
>This definitely made the discussions deeper than if it had been an
>AI-researchers-only crowd.
>Plenty of folks from government agencies and large and small
>corporations were in attendance, as well as of course many AI
>academics and non-affiliated AGI enthusiasts. Among the AI academics
>were some highly-respected stalwarts of the AI community, alongside
>the new generation...
>There seemed to be nearly as many Europeans as Americans there, which
>was a pleasant surprise, and some Asians as well.
>The post-conference workshop on ethical, sociocultural and
>futurological issues drew about 60 people and was a bit of a
>free-for-all, with many conflicting perspectives presented quite
>emphatically and vociferously. I think most of that discussion was
>NOT captured on video (it took place in a different room where
>video-ing was less convenient), though the workshop talks themselves
>The media folks in attendance seemed most energized by the section on
>AI in virtual worlds, which is because in this section the presenters
>(me, Andrew Shilliday, and Martin Magnusson) showed movies of cute
>animated characters doing stuff. This gave the nontechnical observers
>something to grab onto, which most of the other talks did not.
>As at the earlier AGI-06 workshop, one of the most obvious
>observations after listening to the talks was that a lot of AGI
>research programs are pursuing fairly similar architectures and ideas
>but using different languages to describe what they're doing. This
>suggests that making a systematic effort at finding a common language
>and really understanding the true overlaps and differences of the
>various approaches, would be very beneficial. There was some talk of
>organizing a small, invitation-only workshop among practicing AGI
>system architects, perhaps in Fall 2008, with a view toward making
>progress in this direction.
>Much enthusiasm was expressed for an AGI-09, and it was decided that
>this will likely be located in Washington DC, a location that will
>give us the opportunity to use the conference to help energize various
>government agencies about AGI.
>There was also talk about the possibility of an AGI online technical
>journal, and a group of folks will be following that up, led by Pei
>An "AGI Roadmap" project was also discussed, which would involve
>aligning different cognitive architectures currently proposed insofar
>as possible, but also go beyond that. Another key aspect of the
>roadmap might be an agreement on certain test environments or tasks
>that could be used to compare and explore various AGI architectures in
>more of a common way than is now possible.
>Lots of ideas ... lots of enthusiasm ... a strong feeling of
>community-building ... so, I'm really grateful to Stan Franklin, Pei
>Wang, Sidney DeMello and Bruce Klein and everyone else who helped to
>organize the conference.
>Finally, an interesting piece of feedback was given by my mother, who
>knows nothing about AGI research (she runs a social service agency)
>and who did not attend the conference but read the media coverage
>afterwards. What she said is that the media seems to be taking a far
>less skeptical and mocking tone toward AGI these days, as opposed to
>7-10 years ago when I first started appearing in the media now and
>then. I think this is true, and it signifies a real shift in cultural
>attitude. This shift is what allowed The Singularity Is Near to sell
>as many copies as it did; and what encouraged so many AI academics to
>come to a mildly out-of-the-mainstream conference on AGI. Society,
>including the society of scientists, is starting to wake up to the
>notion that, given modern technology and science, human-level AGI is
>no longer a pipe dream but a potential near-term reality. w00t! Of
>course there is a long way to go in terms of getting this kind of work
>taken as seriously as it should be, but at least things seem to be
>going in the right direction.
>-- Ben
>Ben Goertzel, PhD
>CEO, Novamente LLC and Biomind LLC
>Director of Research, SIAI
>"If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they
>will surely become worms."
>-- Henry Miller
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<>Natasha <>Vita-More,
BFA, MS, MPhil
University Lecturer
PhD Candidate, Planetary Collegium - University of Plymouth - Faculty
of Technology
School of Computing, Communications and Electronics
Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts

If you draw a circle in the sand and study only what's inside the
circle, then that is a closed-system perspective. If you study what
is inside the circle and everything outside the circle, then that is
an open system perspective. - Buckminster Fuller

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