Computability in Europe 2008
Logic and Theory of Algorithms

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Invited Plenary Talk:
The Computing Species

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Speaker: Keith Devlin


We are characteristically the "symbolic species," Terrence Deacon claimed in his celebrated 1997 book of that name. Deacon's focus was on language, a capacity unique to humans, the development of which changed in fundamental ways the way humans think and live. Computation is a particular form of symbolic processing. At four distinct stages in the development of modern society, acquisition of the ability to carry out certain new kinds of computation likewise changed - also in fundamental ways - how we humans understand the world and live our lives.

The fourth such change is taking place during our lifetime, brought about by the invention of machines that can be instructed to compute for us. The others occurred in 8,000 B.C., the 13th century, and the 17th century. I'll look at how human life and cognition changed at each of those three stages.

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