Questioning the way machines think

A cross-disciplinary gathering in Melbourne will examine questions around machine thinking, such as whether driverless cars should make ethical decisions, if technologists should warn people about the effects of technology, and whether computers can already think for themselves. “Thinking Machines in the Physical World” is sponsored by the University of Melbourne and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and is based on the work of Norbert Wiener, an MIT professor who founded cybernetics. This conference follows a successful launch of the series in Boston in 2014.

One of the keynote speakers, Professor Mathukumalli Vidyasaga from the University of Texas will consider open problems in transfer learning rising from the advent of “next generation” sequencing in biology. His research uses mathematical and computer modelling to investigate processes and pathways underlying complex cancer conditions. He will be speaking about how machine learning can help analyse molecular data from cancer tumours.

Another speaker, Professor Judy Wajcman, a sociologist from the London School of Economics will examine our fascination with technology and our desire to save time. She also asks whether we need a feminist reimaging of robots, or a female Dr Who to challenge the Silicon Valley vision of technology.

Conference chair Greg Adamson believes we are at a great point in time as we embrace computational thinking with all its possibilities.

“This conference will focus our approach to the traditional and new and emerging challenges. With our abundant data and computational problem-solving, anything is possible,” he said.