The discovery of an army of foreign bots and trolls spreading "fake news" and sowing dissent in our social feeds has brought increased attention to the way we absorb and process information. This is fertile ground for the faculty of Ohio State's Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, who are dedicated to advancing the study of the mind and cognitive processes. Their efforts include the annual CogFest event, happening April 6-7, and this year it's been expanded to encourage attendance and participation by the public. We're partnering with the center to present a screening this Saturday afternoon of Her, Spike Jonze's melancholy near-future romance between a man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It will be followed by a panel discussion with three of Ohio State’s leading experts in computer science, history, and philosophy: David Staley, Wei Xu, and Richard Samuels. Below, Andy Leber, Associate Director of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and an organizer of CogFest, answers a few questions about what newcomers can expect from the two-day event.
How did CogFest get started?
The Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences brings together researchers across a broad variety of academic disciplines, with members distributed widely across campus. Historically, CogFest was designed to facilitate face-to-face interactions among our members, which has led to rewarding and memorable exchanges. While we retain this spirit of healthy academic exchange with the 2018 CogFest, we have also expanded this year’s scope of activities to engage the public at large. Cognitive Science, the study of the mind, captures the interest and imagination of so many people, and we think there is mutual gain by interfacing the public enthusiasm with the expertise Ohio State has cultivated in this field.
What are some of the topics you'll focus on this year?
This year’s event will feature healthy academic exchange on specific topics including human memory, language processing, learning, and development.
How does the film Her figure into the program?
Cognitive Scientists believe that the mind is a computer. It is an incredibly mysterious, complex computer, but a computer nonetheless. And viewing the mind as a computer raises a powerful, very provocative idea: as technology advances, we should be able to overcome the mystery and complexity, such that we will build artificial human minds. An even more provocative idea is that artificial minds need not settle for being humanlike and may one day exceed our own intelligence. These ideas have long been the domain of philosophy and science fiction, but with each new technological advance, many see these ideas as getting closer and closer to reality. Her is a fascinating artistic vehicle to explore these issues. One of its main characters is an artificially intelligent being, who forces us to ponder the future of cognition, the moral challenges of AI, the basic requirements of personal relationships, and more.
Image: From Her, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures