The Fourth International Conference on Cognitive Technology: CT'2001

Minds and Machines: The Making of Meaning in Technologically-Mediated Environments


Monday 6th - Thursday 9th August, 2001

University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

Hosted by the Empirical Modelling Laboratory, Department of Computer Science, University of Warwick

Sponsored by the Cognitive Technology Society (CTS) and the University of Warwick.

Conference Chair:
  Meurig Beynon (University of Warwick, U.K.)

  Kerstin Dautenhahn (University of Reading, U.K.)
  Chrystopher Nehaniv (University of Hertfordshire, U.K.)

Conference Theme

Cognitive Technology is concerned with the interaction between two worlds: that of the mind and that of the machine. In science and engineering, this interaction is often explored by posing the question: how can technology be best tailored to human cognition? Cognitive Technology deems this question too facile. As the history of technological developments has consistently shown, our cognition is shaped by our technology. The wheel, the steam engine, the mobile phone all illustrate the profound and dynamic impact of technology upon our relationship to our environment, upon our social structures, and upon our conceptions of reality and mind.

The technologies of the new millenium promise mind-machine interactions of unprecedented intimacy and subtlety. Such interactions force us to re-examine fundamental concepts, such as embodiment and consciousness, that frame our understanding of the relationship between minds and machines. In the context of these emerging developments, this conference will reappraise the role of technology in the making of meaning from the diverse perspectives afforded by a wide range of current disciplines, and evidence drawn from the history of technology. Its aim is to deepen our insight into the potential influence of current and future technologies over people and society.


The 4th International Conference (University of Warwick, 2001) invites workers in cognitive technology to Coventry, a city whose history has been shaped by technological innovation and theological movements in war and at peace. Coventry is a city renowned as a religious centre of great richness and antiquity, and as the birthplace of the British car industry, set in a region whose landmarks include Warwick Castle, Shakespeare's Stratford, and major relics of the industrial revolution. In addition, Coventry is the home of one of Britain's major universities, the University of Warwick. The scope of meaning construction ranging from our existence as embodied beings in a physical environment, our relationship with our tools and technology, and humanity's endeavour to understand the nature of its own existence is well-reflected in the city of Coventry. In peace, in Coventry is the car, bicycle, watch making industry, and in war is associated with the armaments factories and the aerial bombing of World War II. Theology in peace and war is the meeting place of religious traditions over the centuries (priories, friaries, cathedrals, Parish churches) now symbolised in the three spires of the city, in harmony and conflict. In response to the bombing of the old cathedral, with its international community committed to reconciliation, Coventry built the new cathedreal. In this most appropriate setting, at a time when the interaction between minds and machines is undergoing a radical change, we shall examine the processes by which emerging technologies profoundly affect our personal and social lives, and so contribute to our making of meaning.

Conference Subthemes

The subthemes of the conference stem from a whole range of perspectives on *how technology contributes to the making of meaning*. The primary subtheme considers how far the nature of this enquiry will be affected by current and future developments in computer-based technology - and those that relate to issues of consciousness and embodiment in particular. Each subsidary theme is concerned with one particular perspective on the human impact of technological innovation.

'The making of meaning' is to be broadly interpreted as referring to all the activities by which significance is attached to the actions of people and machines engaging with a technology. For a new technology, meaning is in the first instance associated with intended and preconceived applications. The pioneers of the motor car are first preoccupied with refining the car engine, supplying the primary driver controls, building basic roads. As a technology matures, new meanings typically emerge, as skills are acquired, and unforeseen functionality is identified. Driving skills and protocols evolve, the car becomes a status symbol, the drivers are subject to road rage. A new technology typically establishes a pattern of useage, and an associated social organisation. Driving regulations are introduced, and the organisation of families, industries and cities comes to reflect greater mobility and autonomy. This in turn spawns languages and conventions that are universally understood by proficient users of the technology. New features and classifications of road are created, and resources to provide services, information and training about cars and driving are developed. Established technologies supply the metaphors that influence the ways in which we interpret and communicate our experience. Access to autonomous travel is perceived as a norm, neighbouring cities converge, metaphors such as "giving a proposal the green light" and "stepping on the gas" invade our language. Through such processes, the contribution of technology to the making of meaning is manifest in many different disciplines: in the engineering of artefacts, in the psychological and sociological issues surrounding their individual and corporate use, and in the philosophical implications for our languages and modes of thought.

    The primary subtheme

  1. The Human Implications of Mind-Machine Technology
  2. The primary focus of Cognitive Technology is upon contemporary and emerging computer-based technology and its human implications. All the above perspectives are relevant to understanding these implications, but the processes of mutual co-evolution and adaptation that shape our interaction with the technology of the computer age are so complex that they invite a holistic rather than a reductionist approach. In this respect, our enquiry into how modern technology contributes to the making of meaning already presents a challenge to classical linguistic and logical frameworks for studying computation and cognition. Future technologies will deliver new paradigms for embodiment and access to the mind that raise even more fundamental issues of an ontological nature.

    Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
    embodiment, narrativity and affect in computing
    modelling for perception, situation and culture
    agent-oriented modelling and emergent behaviour
    coping with technology e.g. dealing with information overload and extracting meaning
    theories of intelligence
    frameworks for cognitive engineering
    holistic models of computation

    The subsidiary themes

  3. The History Perspective: Comparative Cognitive Technology
  4. The pattern of impact on cognition described above is loosely applicable to any new technology. In our computer age, the whole range of cognitive issues associated with a new technological product is topical from its initial conception, and is particularly relevant to its software components. This is because IT enhances the scope for rapid and radical redesign, the demand for adaptation by the user, and the potential for far more direct engagement with human intelligence. It also supplies the framework for rapid and ubiquitous communication. For this reason, it is to be expected that the predominant emphasis of the conference will be on IT-related technologies, and on on the impact of innovative applications that exploit IT. In gaining an insight into the nature of cognitive technology, it is nonetheless useful to study older technologies, and to compare and contrast one technology with another - from a CT perspective - through examining its historical development and use.

    Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
    CT issues in IT systems development
    case studies drawn from the history of technology
    comparative studies assessing the human impact of different technologies

  5. The Engineering Perspective: Design for Meaning
  6. In the past, the perspective of the engineer or computer science has often been informed by a narrow conception of design that discounts the impact of an engineering product upon the human requirement. Modern design challenges, which typically involve the development of complex hardware and software components, have highlighted the need to view requirements as evolving through feedback and adaptation on the part of the user. CT is centrally concerned with holistic approaches to design in which awareness of the impact of new technologies upon people is paramount.

    Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
      holistic principles for complex system design
      new technologies with significance for mind-machine interaction
      prostheses and instruments that support novel mind-machine interaction
      techniques for adaptive and situated modelling

  7. The Psychology Perspective: Instruments and Affective Meanings
  8. The significance of computer-based technologies for human behaviour has to be evaluated in a far broader framework than any specific functionality can embrace. The psychological implications of products of modern technology stem from an interaction with users that has a qualitative, experiential character. It is apparent that such products can influence our intellectual and emotional culture as potently as scientific and musical instruments have done in the past. It is also clear that this imposes new demands upon our conceptual frameworks for computation and cognition.

    Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
      the aesthetic and emotional significance of technological products
      the place of non-verbal and subjective elements in foundations of cognition
      the importance of embodiment
      computer models of human behaviour

  9. The Education Perspective: Communicating Meanings
  10. Constructivist approaches to learning highlight the potential importance of technology in education. Understanding the current role and future scope of IT in education is intimately bound up with understanding how technology is implicated in the making of meaning. This motivates a re-evaluation of traditional theories of knowledge representation and of educational development in the light (e.g.) of new advances in web-based learning and mind-computer interfaces.

    Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
      the role of computers in learning
      collaborative learning environments
      educational environments for teaching the humanities
      computer-based educational tools for music, drama and the visual arts
      the virtual university

  11. The Social Science Perspective: Meaning in Technologically-Mediated Environments
  12. Social and technological development are intimately interrelated. The effect of world-wide communication and international commerce has been to stimulate this relationship in ways that are complex and contradictory. New technology promotes rapid and more frenetic decision-making that potentially has dramatic social and economic consequences. Despite this trend, globalisation and commercial pressures have led to such a degree of standardisation in programming technologies, tools and techniques that radical change is inhibited. Cognitive technology has a vital role to play in understanding the social impact of technological innovation.

    Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
      social structures that evolve around technology
      the virtual society
      technology and cognition in a historical perspective
      the impact of technology on languages of discourse and their social implications
      the benefits and dangers of new technological developments
      the impact of commercial software production on computer acquisition and use

  13. The Philosophy Perspective: Accounting for Technology in the Making of Meaning
  14. New technologies have changed our perception of the world and of reality. Developments in virtual reality, in robotics and in brain-mediated interaction (amongst others) raise ontological issues that present challenges to classical models of mind and machine. In establishing a good foundational perspective on such contemporary developments, it is particularly important to take account of experiential, pre-articulate and non-verbal knowledge. Participants are encouraged to consider the following topics with reference to the above agenda:
      virtual realities
      theories of consciousness
      experiential and declarative modes of knowledge representation
      objective, commonsense and nonsense realities
      the relationship between scientific theory and experiment