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iCog 4: Action Perception Conference

Image from iCog conference

In this blog post Chris Fowles (DPhil Philosophy) shares his experience as one of the organisers of an interdisciplinary conference on behavioural prediction organized with the support of the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund 2016-2017 [iCog 4: Action Perception Conference, 17th & 18th June, 2017, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Oxford]

Organizers: Sam Clarke, Jamie Findlay, and Chris Fowles

Human beings often rely on an ability to predict and understand one another’s behaviour. My movements in the direction of a given object might be to pick the object up, or to push it away. I might be about to use the object to perform a menial task, or to bash you over the head. It is of clear importance, in such circumstances, that you can succeed in anticipating particular outcomes of this object-directed behaviour, and react accordingly.

It has long been assumed by philosophers and scientists alike that predicting and understanding something as complex as human behaviour requires sophisticated (albeit sub-conscious) reasoning about things like character, and context. A number of recent empirical studies, however, have questioned this, suggesting that that perceptual systems might in fact identify, track, and categorize perceived behaviour.

It was this controversial claim that we wished to explore in our conference, Action Perception. The aim was to bring together philosophers, linguists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists working on the processes that underpin behavioural prediction and understanding. Our conference took place over two days, which allowed us to host 12 speakers; four of whom were invited keynotes, and 8 of whom we selected from an open submission. We were very happy to be able to welcome some of the leading researchers in this area as keynote speakers, and were also delighted with the response to our call for papers, both in terms of the strength of the response, and in terms of the breadth of topics covered. Speakers came from Oxford, Warwick, Berlin, Budapest, Cairo, Ghent, Miami, and Oklahoma; and the papers presented addressed, inter alia, the philosophical questions around goal-tracking, the psychology of speech-perception, implicit biases and mindreading, agency perception in animals, and agentive phenomenology – all of which generated much fruitful discussion.

Action Perception was run in association with the iCog network (a network of graduate students and early career researchers in cognitive science, based in Sheffield), which raised the profile of our event. Each day was well attended, with many people from outside of Oxford coming for the full two days. The conference itself ran smoothly, including both the talks and discussions, as well as the lunch breaks and conference dinner. We had worked out a detailed plan for the two days well in advance, which we stuck to closely, and which meant that procedings moved along with minimal fuss, from the first people arriving in Oxford on the afternoon before the conference, through to the task of returning the rooms of the Radcliffe Humanities building to their normal state after the conference was done.

Although running a conference was a lot of work, it was rewarding, and a very useful learning experience. The two days produced, we hope, not only some good discussions, but also plenty of opportunites for early-career researchers and established scholars to interact with others working in their field. This would not have been possible without the support of TORCH and the AHRC, and the help of Sarah Laseke and Julia Marshall, to whom we are very grateful.

The iCog website, including information about Action Perception, can be found at: http://icog.group.shef.ac.uk/conferences-and-workshops/icog-4/