Melanie Challenger; Independent researcher
I am a writer and researcher on the relationship of humans to the rest of nature, and environmental philosophy. I am the author of On Extinction and How To Be Animal: A new history of what it means to be human, which will be published by Viking Penguin in 2021. I have an interest in bioethics, and am a current member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. I am particularly interested in the social contexts that have shaped human intelligence, and how these also shape and limit our insights into other forms of intelligence. I'm working on three intelligence related projects, outside of my work in bioethics. A virtual reality theatre experience of non-human animal intelligences that I'm calling "mensamorph". A new nonfiction book for general audiences called The Thinking Universe, which will be a natural and experimental history of intelligence from amoeba to AI. And I am interested in exploring further some ideas I have about the subjective consciousness as a strong specialization of intelligence that allows for greater behavioral flexibility. I'm looking for collaborators and individuals whose research I can feature.
Mallessa (Les) James
2019 DISI Alum
My work engages what I’ve been thinking of as the theopoetics of cognitive science. I use images and imagery to play with scientific, philosophical, and other cultural ideas about the nature of mind. I'm interested in cognitive theory, experience design, and cultural evolution.
Boris Oicherman; Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota
I am an artist, a museum curator and an engineer - but I've always had hard time answering the "what kind" questions about what I do. What's your field of engineering? (Color Science..?) What art medium? (Conditional art..?) What kind of curating? (Curator for Collaboration..?) Answering a "simple" question with a conversation seemed the only way. It took me some years to realize that what I'm having hard time with is the very idea of a "kind of": disciplines, media, professions, the ways we break down and demarcate our practices, cultures and ways of knowing to make them manageable, controllable, digestible - invariably at the expense of the shared, inclusive, emergent. I have also had a hunch that, of all Western professions, artists are the only ones who can attach their work to any other practice, absorb themselves into any other discipline. The reverse is also true: today, any practice can become art. So, I thought, we can as well use this incredible freedom of art to catalyze connections between disciplines, and perhaps - one day - do away with disciplines altogether.
Artist Robert Irwin pointed out, some 50 years ago, "One interesting thing about being an artist now is that everything is a possibility. Which means you start out of the state of total chaos, and you have to assume the responsibility for every single thing you do or do not do." I am lucky as hell having a full-time job figuring out just how to go about that.
I'm a statistician-turned-filmmaker from India who enjoys looking at the world with a sociological lens. All my work revolves around immigrant experiences but is rooted in stories of courage. My films have screened at 45+ festivals around the world and won 10+ awards. I'm currently developing a TV show that explores the intersection of data science, neuroscience, astrology and love. I'm thrilled for the opportunity to refine this show and engage in multi-perspective conversations at DISI 2020. Website.
I am a filmmaker who sometimes makes films written by machine intelligences.
But here's the weird thing:
At DISI 2019 I was surprised to learn that no agreed definition of "Intelligence" exists. Even more surprisingly, I found myself responding to this by developing a theory (further influenced by Krakaur, Tononi, Friston, Bach et al) which attempts to exhaustively capture intelligence. It has gone on to dramatically alter my worldview.
Briefly: If "Life" describes any and all diverse processes which emergently embody compressed models of their affordances, producing behaviour such that those models persist across change (eg outcompete, reproduce, adapt, co-opt), at multiple hierarchical orders simultaneously (eg autocatalytic, cell, organism, cognitive, community), then "Intelligence" would refer to any metric of effectiveness of these models (scope, resolution, reliability, speed etc). That is to say, how capably a mycoplasma colonises, a tree seeks sunlight, a nation overcomes drought, a pet empathises, a dancer balances, or a reader navigates these words. Broadening a colloquial understanding of Intelligence limited to activity expressing conscious, cognitive models.
This framework appears to cohere across disciplines, and produce meaningful outputs in any area concerning life. Areas I've focussed on so far include psychology (eg bias, dreaming, emotion, learning, memory, creativity, culture, grief, trauma, character), language (evolved to synchronise cognitive models), music (evolved to synchronise affective models), sociology (communities, nations, ethics), machine learning, physics (limited by our affordances and externalities, liable to overencode aspects of our modelling strategy like time, space and observation) and SETI. I am cautiously optimistic there are even implications to pure mathematics, which I suspect will be shown to be an elucidation of the underpinnings of the human cognitive modelling system as opposed to "fundamental", and the puzzle of consciousness.
I am acutely and uncomfortably aware of how hubristic and wildly crackpot all this sounds, especially from a non-academic. I am therefore in the early stages of co-authoring my first attempt at a paper, with Pete Worden, to try to better articulate this thinking. I refer to it as The Model Model.
I am thrilled at the prospect of further provocation and guidance from the fellows, storytellers and faculty of DISI 2020.
Laura L. Sydell; Independent Producer/NPR Contributor
2019 DISI Alum
As a longtime public radio journalist covering technology, I have been troubled by the way that online communication appears to be heightening the divisions in the US and around the world. I"m looking to examine methods of communication within different species, including humans, as a way to evaluate what is lost when humans use electronic communication. My interest in this comes out of research being done at Nokia's Bell Labs, where they are exploring the elements that make it easy for humans to feel emotions that are expressed through music. Nokia is trying to break down why music is so effective at conveying feelings and whether there might be ways to use haptics and vibration to improve empathy between.
MOsley WOtta; Artist
I am a writer, painter, performer and speaker. I have released several projects with collaborators Colten Tyler Williams & Oxiliary Studios including: WHAT COMES AFTER & THIS IS NOT ALL THERE IS and HEAD ON. I am a founding member of WAKE RECORDS based in Central Oregon.
2019 DISI Alum
I am interested in multimedia storytelling and how scientific information influences our cultural understanding of who we are and the futures we build. My background is in comparative cognition, evolutionary biology, ecology, art, and design, and I will be pursuing a master's in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology at University of Oxford in 2021. My work is at www.ameyyzhang.com.