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From Brain Science to Intelligent Machines

On the origins of agency

Date: Tuesday 29/9/2015

Venue: MS105 (Boardroom)

Time: 12.00 noon

Speaker: Prof. Scott Kelso

Affiliation: Florida Atlantic University

On the origins of agency

Prof. Scott Kelso

Florida Atlantic University


The word “agent” is commonplace in computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as many other fields. But what principles and mechanisms underlie the emergence of agency? The question of agency and directedness in living systems has puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. I will present an analysis and theoretical model of experiments on human infants and suggest an answer that is based on the principles and mechanisms of coordination dynamics. The birth of agency and its causative powers ("I do", "I can do") is shown to correspond to a phase transition in a coupled dynamical system whose key variables span the interaction between the organism and its environment. The main mechanism underlying the origin of agency is autocatalytic and involves positive feedback: when the baby’s initially spontaneous movements cause the world to change, their perceived consequences have a sudden and sustained amplifying effect on the baby’s further actions. Some implications of this theory will be discussed.

Short Bio

Using a combination of brain imaging, behavioral methods and computational modeling, Scott Kelso’s research focuses on how the brain is coordinated on multiple levels, all the way from cells to cognition and social behavior (see http://www.ccs.fau.edu/hbbl3/). Kelso holds the Glenwood and Martha Creech Eminent Scholar Chair in Science at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton where he is also Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Biological Sciences and Biomedical Sciences. From 1985-2005 he served as the Founding Director of Florida Atlantic’s Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences where he also led the NIH’s National Training Program in this new interdisciplinary field. Prior to his current position, Kelso was Senior Research Scientist at Yale University’s Haskins Laboratories and Professor of Psychology and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of Connecticut. Since 2009, Kelso has been Visiting Professor at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre in Ulster University’s Magee Campus in Derry, N. Ireland the place where he was born

Kelso and colleagues’ research has been published in Science and Nature as well as other prominent journals in the fields of neuroscience, physics, biology and psychology. His books include Dynamic Patterns: the Self-Organization of Brain and Behavior (MIT Press, 1995), Coordination Dynamics (Springer, 2004) and The Complementary Nature published by MIT Press in 2006. Kelso is an elected Fellow of APA, APS, SEP and AAAS and has received a number of honors and awards for his work, including the MERIT, Senior Scientist and Director’s Innovations Awards from the U.S. National Institute of Health, the Distinguished Alumni Research Achievement Award from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the Docteur Honoris Causa degree from the Republic of France and the University of Toulouse (est. 1228). In 2007 he was named Pierre de Fermat Laureate and in 2011 he was the recipient of the Bernstein Prize for his fundamental work on how the brain controls movement. Trained in a specifically interdisciplinary setting, Kelso’s PhD students and Postdoctoral fellows have gone on to careers in some of the top academic and research institutions in the world.