Report on the 35th Annual Cognitive Science Conference

Article excerpt

CogSci 2013, the 35th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society and the first to take place in Germany, was held from 31 July to 3 August. Cognitive scientists with varied backgrounds gathered in Berlin to report on and discuss expanding lines of research, spanning multiple fields but striving in one direction: to understand cognition with all its properties and peculiarities. A rich program featuring keynotes, symposia, workshops, and tutorials, along with regular oral and poster sessions, offered the attendees a vivid and exciting overview of where the discipline is going while serving as a fertile forum of interdisciplinary discussion and exchange. This report attempts to point out why this should matter to artificial intelligence as a whole.


The 35th annual cognitive science conference took place at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Although the conference has been the major international venue for cognitive science research for a long time, appealing to all seven discipline pillars--anthropology, artificial intelligence, education, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology--this year's edition topped every past meeting in terms of number of participants. An impressive figure of more than 1000 accepted contributions, divided among oral presentations (274), posters (685), symposia, workshops, and tutorials, could be accommodated in the program only by increasing the number of parallel sessions to 11 and enlarging the three poster sessions. Despite the large number of more than 1300 attendees, it was still possible to hold the conference at the university's historical building on Unter den Linden, right in the ever-modernizing heart of Germany's capital. Humboldt University used to be the most important university in East Germany, and in many corners the visitor was reminded of its excellent fellows, from Fichte and Hegel to Helmholtz, Einstein, and Planck. In this inspiring context attendees were welcomed from nearly 50 countries, the most conspicuous contingents coming from Europe (40 percent) and the USA (30 percent).

The four German chairs, Markus Knauff, Michael Pauen, Natalie Sebanz, and Ipke Wachsmuth, with the help of the organizing and program committees, successfully managed both the deluge of submissions and the logistically challenging scheduling of the multiple thematic sessions, while allowing a great variety of topics to be represented and discussed from the different disciplines' perspectives.

Program Highlights

The conference topic for 2013 was cooperative minds: social interaction and group dynamics, supporting the spreading vision of the continuity of mind (in Michael Spivey's terms) from perception and action to language and shared cognition. The five invited plenary presentations touched this theme, each one settled in a different context.

On the neuroscientific side, John Duncan (recipient of the Heineken Prize) presented some results on how the brain works in assembling cognitive episodes by means of fluid intelligence, while the developmental psychologist Elisabeth Spelke talked about core social cognition.

Of greater direct interest to the AI community probably were the other three talks. Cynthia Breazeal, champion of sociable robots, presented some guiding principles for achieving cooperative machines, capable of interacting both with people and other agents. Breazeal stressed that it seems critical in this respect that robots be endowed with a theory of mind that can represent the behaviour and the internal workings of the self and of other partners.

On similar lines, the philosopher of action--and notably the author of the belief desire intention model--Michael Bratman elaborated on the nature of shared agency and in particular on how we approach cooperative planning, based on both reciprocal intentions and expectations.

Linda Smith was the 2013 recipient of the Rumelhart Prize for Contributions to the Theoretical Foundations of Human Cognition. …