Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS)

Speakers, Abstracts and Organizers



11.00  Welcome & Introduction - Steve Torrance & Ron Chrisley

11.10  Keynote - Maggie Boden: "Robots and Relationships"

12.00  Giulio Sandini: "Humanizing Robots"

12.30  Lunch                                                          

13.15  Antonio Chella: "Social robotics and autism"

13.45  Keynote - Friederike Eyssel: "A social psychological perspective on social robotics"

14.35  Robert Clowes: "Current Social Technology, Near Future Social Robotics"

15.05  Break

15.30  Max Cappuccio: "There’s no such thing as social robotics. Long live social robotics!"

16.00  Panel discussion

17.00  Wind-down

18.00 End of workshop


Keynote Speakers


Friederike Eyssel:  A social psychological perspective on social robotics

The presentation features recent research from our lab at CITEC, Bielefeld University: This work combines basic and applied research focii and sheds light on social psychological aspects of successful human-machine interaction and technology acceptance. Findings on contemporary attitudes towards different types of robots and predictors of user willingness to accept robots in everyday life (e.g., in schools) settings will be presented. Furthermore, the talk addresses the notion of psychological anthropomorphism and  discusses what it means to be human and how this notion is applied to technical systems. This is illustrated by various experimental studies on the determinants of psychological anthropomorphisation.

Friederike Eyssel is  Professor of Applied Social Psychology and Gender Research at Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology at Bielefeld University, Germany. Dr. Eyssel is interested in various research topics ranging from social robotics, social agents, and ambient intelligene to attitue change, prejudice reduction and sexual objectification of women. Crossing disciplines, Dr. Eyssel has published vastly in the field of social psychology, human-robot interaction and social robotics and serves as a reviewer for > 20 journal. Current third-party funded research projects (DFG, BMBF, FP7) address user experience and smart home technologies and ethical aspects associated with assistive technology.




Margaret Boden: Robots and Relationships

Can we have genuine relationships with non-human beings? Many people think so. And some think they have them with computers (e.g. commercially-available chatbots). I think this is a delusion. Without sharing the human (or even mammalian) condition, there’s no ground for empathy there. We shouldn’t deceive people into thinking otherwise. (In short, Joe Weizenbaum had a point!)

Margaret A. Boden OBE ScD FBA is Research Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, where she helped develop the world's first academic programme in cognitive science. She holds degrees in medical sciences, philosophy, and psychology, and integrates these disciplines with AI in her research. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, and of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (and its British and European equivalents). Her work has been translated into twenty languages. Her books include The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms (1990/2004) and Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science (2006). Her latest book (published by Oxford University Press, May 2016 ) is AI, Its Nature and Future. She has two children and four grandchildren, and lives in Brighton.







Invited Speakers


Giulio Sandini: Humanizing Robots

Since the first humanoid robot announced by Honda 30 years ago the complexity and the performance of humanoid robots has been steadily increasing and nowadays we can claim that sensing and motion abilities of robots are approaching those of humans. Moreover, the computational power of today’s computers and the possibility to process enormous amount of data in real time, has created the impression that a society where humans and robots co-exist and collaborate is not very far away. Is this true? During the talk I will argue that robots interacting with humans in everyday situations, even if motorically and sensorially very skilled and extremely clever in action execution are still very much primitive in their ability to understand actions executed by others and that this is the major obstacle for the advancement of social robotics. I will argue that the reason why this is happening is rooted in our limited knowledge about ourselves and the way we interact socially. I will also argue that robotics can serve a very crucial role in advancing this knowledge by joining forces with the communities studying the cognitive aspects of social interaction and by co-designing robots able to establish a mutual communication channel with the human partner to discover and fulfil a shared goal (the distinctive mark of human social interaction).

Giulio Sandini is Director of Research at the Italian Institute of Technology and full professor of bioengineering at the University of Genoa. After his graduation in Electronic Engineering (Bioengineering) at the University of Genova in 1976 he was research fellow and assistant professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa until 1984. During this period, working at the Laboratorio di Neurofisiologia of the CNR, he investigated aspects of visual processing at the level of single neurons as well as adults and children. He has been Visiting Research Associate at the Department of Neurology of the Harvard Medical School in Boston where he developed diagnostic techniques based on brain electrical activity mapping. After his return to Genova in 1984 as associate professor, in 1990 he founded the LIRA-Lab (Laboratory for Integrated Advanced Robotics, www.liralab.it). In 1996 he was Visiting Scientist at the Artificial Intelligence Lab of MIT.
Since July 2006 Giulio Sandini is on absence of leave from University of Genoa as he has been appointed Director of Research at the Italian Institute of Technology where he has established and is currently directing the department of Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences. RBCS department concentrates on a multidisciplinary approach to human centered technologies encompassing machine learning and artificial cognition, exploring the brain mechanisms at the basis of motor behavior, learning, multimodal interaction, and sensorimotor integration. The department’s multidisciplinary research staff is composed of researchers with different backgrounds (engineers, biologists, psychologists, mathematicians, physicists, medical doctors) addressing four, strictly interconnected, streams of research: Cognitive Robotics; Motor Learning, Assistive and Rehabilitation Robotics, Dynamic Touch and Interaction, Spatial Awareness and Multisensory Integration. 



Massimiliano Lorenzo Cappuccio: There’s no such thing as social robotics. Long live social robotics!

Social robotics research has often tended to assume that the robot’s capability to match the human’s social characteristics and intelligence is crucial to establish successful human-robot interactions. I intend to criticize this assumption and propose an alternative perspective. In the first part of my talk I will rely on a Dreyfusian line of argument to polemically point out that, if social robotics had truly relied on the reciprocity of human and artificial social behaviors, or the latter’s capability to imitate the former, then no true social interaction between humans and robots would have ever been possible, given the unsophisticated simplicity and well-known limitations of today’s social robots. In the second part, I will highlight how the most successful examples of social robots, especially those designed for clinical applications, build on a rather different assumption: it is not the robot’s capability to imitate the human, but the fulfillment of the human’s expectations to encounter a social partner, that makes human-robot interaction accomplished and successful. Understanding how these expectations are usually generated and fulfilled first of all requires appreciation of how the relationship between human and robot is not comparable to a standard social interaction between intelligent beings. It rather essentially amounts to a form of self-stimulation enacted by the human through an external device, whose function is not to replicate or even imitate social intelligence, but directly solicit pro-social expectations and immediate reactions. Drawing on data from primatology and developmental psychology, I will highlight how expectations and responses of this kind (especially parental care instincts and child rearing cultural prototypes), build on the human natural predisposition to pretend play and pantomime more than on the alleged human’s predisposition to establish social relationships based on similarity or reciprocity. To conclude, I will suggest that the experimental methodology and the theoretical models of social robotics should keep into account the fact that the cognitive work, presupposed by human-robot interaction, is nothing more than a self-stimulatory system, almost entirely carried out by the human system, with very little or even no truly intelligent input from the robot.

Max Cappuccio is associate professor of philosophical psychology at UAE University, where he directs the Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Laboratory. His work addresses theoretical issues in embodied cognition and social cognition combining analytic, phenomenological, and empirical perspectives. He is the principal investigator of two UAEU/NRF-sponsored research projects that focus on performance under pressure and human-robot interaction, respectively. With Mohamad Eid and Friederike Eyssel he organizes and chairs the yearly Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics (JSSR). He is currently editing the MIT Press Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology




Antonio Chella: Social Robotics and Autism

The talk summarizes the results and experiments of the project “Robotics and Autism,” conducted by the RoboticsLab of the University of Palermo and the ASD professionals of the Italian regional health service (ASP6 Palermo). The project aimed to experience the employments of humanoid robots as social mediators between ASD children and classmates. The first part of the talk discusses the experiences conducted with ASD children (11 years old) at a middle school in Palermo during a whole quarter. The objectives of the project were the assessment of the robots NAO and Telenoid on the interaction and social integration among ASD children and schoolmates. The second part of the talk speculates about the development of an embodied model of autism by modelling an (abnormal) Theory of Other Mind and Theory of Own Mind on a humanoid robot and the relevance of this study for a better understanding of the nature of self-consciousness.

Antonio Chella is Professor at the Università degli Studi di Palermo in the Department of Industrial and Digital Innovation (DIID), Palermo, Italy.  He is a leading researcher in the field of Machine Consciousness.





Robert Clowes: Current Social Technology, Near Future Social Robotics

There is a lot of artificial intelligence technology already deeply involved in human social life. Since the development of the social web, internet technology, derived from AI, or even leading AI research (as in the case of Google Deep Mind) has been turned toward the surveillance, profiling and predicting of an ever-increasing segment of human social life. One example is the Edgerank algorithm deployed by Facebook to manage which posts of which friends appear on our personal newsfeed, re-mediating and changing the structure of our social networks in the process. This is only the beginning. Such technology, first inhabiting our mobile phones, is now worn as clothing, taking up residence in our cars, and with Amazon's Alexa, our homes. This technology is not near future but here in the present. Indeed internet-based social technologies are likely to give us a snapshot of where social robotics will be going in the near future. In this talk I analyse the landscape of current social technologies and how they are likely to dovetail with social robotics. As increasingly autonomous devices interact with us using detailed knowledge of our human social interactions and history, social AI technology will form the hidden inference basis for social robotics. This talk aims to point to some of the dilemmas and opportunities, both technological and ethical, this development suggests.

Rob Clowes is a member of the Lisbon Mind & Cognition Group, at ARGLAB, Nova Institute of Philosophy, at the New University of Lisbon (Universidade Nova de Lisboa).



Workshop organizers


Steve Torrance

Steve Torrance has been a visiting senior research fellow at the University of Sussex since the early 2000s, based in the School of Engineering and Informatics. With Ron Chrisley he was a co-founder of the Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS) at Sussex. He is also Professor Emeritus in Cognitive Science from Middlesex University: before retirement from there he held positions, successively, within the subject departments of Philosophy, Computer Science and Psychology. He recently completed nearly a decade as a part-time associate lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and was recently a visiting professor at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands. He has for some years been a technology consultant for the European Commission, as an ethics reviewer for their funded programmes. Steve trained in philosophy at Sussex and Oxford. His doctoral work was in the logical status of moral judgments. Since the 1980s he has worked at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, cognitive science and AI and robotic technologies. His recent publications and conference contributions have covered AI and ethical theory; the implications of artificial ethics and artificial consciousness as research goals; the potential status of AI agents as sources and recipients of ethical action; machine ethics in the health and social care domains; singularity theory and transhumanism; technocentrism and ecology; and enactivist approaches to cognition and action. He is also a jazz musician, and is currently working with a fellow cognitive scientist in Paris in a collaborative exploration of enactivist theory in relation to jazz improvisation, which combines theoretical discussions with live performance.

Ron Chrisley

Ron Chrisley is Reader in Philosophy in the School of Engineering and Informatics at the University of Sussex. He received a Bachelors of Science in Symbolic Systems, with honours and distinction, from Stanford University in 1987. He was an AI research assistant at Stanford, NASA, and Xerox PARC, and investigated neural networks for speech recognition as a Fulbright Scholar at the Helsinki University of Technology and at ATR Laboratories in Japan. In 1997 he received a DPhil in Philosophy from the University of Oxford, and in 1992 he took up a lectureship in Philosophy in the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at the University of Sussex. From 2001-2003 he was a Leverhulme Research Fellow in Artificial Intelligence at the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham. Since 2003 he has been the director of the Centre for Research in Cognitive Science (COGS) at the University of Sussex, where he is also on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.


Host Institutions



The University of Sussex Centre for Cognitive Science takes its name from the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences, which was founded at Sussex in the mid 1980s.  The first Dean of COGS was Margaret Boden, one of our two workshop keynote speakers.   After an academic reorganisation of the University in the early 2000s COGS, as one of the world’s leading centres for AI teaching and research, was disbanded as a teaching entity.  Since then the COGS research centre has been part of the School of Engineering and Informatics.




The workshop benefits from funding from the British Psychological Society, through its Consciousness and Experiential Psychology section (CEP).  CEP has been in existence for around 20 years as a research group enabling UK psychologists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, etc. to investigate aspects of consciousness through its workshops and annual conferences.  The theme of the 2017 CEP Annual Conference is Technology, Consciousness and Experience, and the present workshop at Sussex acts as a curtain-raiser for the conference, which is to be held at Royal Holloway, University of London, in September. 



The Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

The workshop is also funded by the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.  The Sackler Centre was founded in 2010 following a generous donation from the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.  It pursues a powerful interdisciplinary approach to clinical intervention and diagnosis, based on the science of the complex brain networks that give rise to consciousness.  The Co-Directors of the Centre are Anil Seth (Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience) and Hugo Critchley (Professor and Chair in Psychiatry, Brighton and Sussex Medical School).