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17 May 2008 / erikduval

Academica Belgica

A few days ago, I attended a session of a series on “Brain, Consciousness and the Mind“, organized by the Royal Flemish Academy of Science and the Arts. If that sounds like a super venerable institution, then that is probably because I guess it is a super venerable institution. The venue is a spectacular neo-classical building next to the royal palace in the heart of Brussels. An interesting side effect is that the average age of the audience was about double my own – or at least that’s how I felt. I guess that you only become a member of the academy after a long and productive life in the arts or sciences. That’s ok with me. But it doesn’t result in a grouping that is very representative of active practitioners, it seems to me. Two of the other much-yuonger-than-average people in the room were the speakers😉 .

Never mind, this was quite an interesting evening. The first speaker was Dirk Hermans, from my own university. His research has shown that people who are susceptible to develop a depression typically have more general memories, which may be caused by a trauma that people avoid remembering, by not having specific memories at all. What I found interesting is that this was based on sound empirical research with many repeated experiments with slightly different groups and detailed analysis. That is something I see so little of in Technology Enhanced Learning! Also, for an outsider like me at least, this struck me as a highly unexpected observation. I wonder how many of these observations could be made in learning…

The second speaker was Dirk De Ridder from the University of Antwerp, who talked about how implants in the brain can maybe some day be used to treat pathological criminals or pedophiles. Some of the things he talked about were quite a bit beyond what I had imagined neurologists do: for instance, did you now they take pictures of the brain while people are having sex (in a scanner!)😉 ? And no, there is not one region of the brain that is responsible for X or Y, but there definitely seems to be a network of modules that are interconnected and it is possible to influence those networks, for instance to treat phantom pain… I wonder how much research of this kind has been done on effects in the brain when people learn. Really: please do let me know if you can point me to any such research!

Overall, I very much liked the more multi-disciplinary nature of this evening. I also had an extra reason to attend, as I will be speaking at the next session this Tuesday. Of course, the snowflake effect will be the theme of my talk. I think I may start from the Turing test – this is after all a series on the brain, consciousness and the mind. Maybe I will say a few words about why I am not so interested in traditional AI, which reminds me too much of Descartes. I guess that I will then try to make the point that, in a world of abundance, some help is needed that could pass the Turing test in that it is as good as humans are in assisting us with the selection of music, food, clothing, media … and learning opportunities. I might end with some remarks on privacy. Any suggestions for approaching this in a different way? Examples I could show?

Anyway, I look forward to the opportunity to talk to this audience about some of the topics that keep me busy. I wonder what will be the reaction in this rather different than usual audience…

2 Comments

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  1. erikduval / May 18 2008 10:42 pm

    Funny: someone of course already tried the Turing test for recommendations – in this case on music: http://blogs.sun.com/plamere/entry/music_recommender_turing_test_results. VERY interesting…!

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