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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Medienwissenschaft

Re-Thinking Computation


Re-Thinking Computation  While in times of "big data" and Deep Learning, most private or academic users of mobile and online media, embedded microprocessors and giant server farms may believe in almost limitless capacities of computation. But in terms of hardware minimization (Moore's law) and software (massively recursive algorithms), insiders already sublimenly feel that something is coming to an end. Media culture is at a crucial bifurcation moment: On the one hand, prospects like quantum computing promise a further escalation of computaitonal power, while at the same time, the limits of algorithmic computability of real world processes (the real subject of Turing's and Gödel's seminal papers) become more evident than ever. The limits of classic computability, though, are not only a techological necessity, but a media-epistmological chance to re-think computation: stimulating forgotten or fothcoming alternatives to conventional computation (like analog computing), making creative, affective use of computational limitations, even questioning computation as such: Is there a media philosophy "after" computation? Media Science, while caring for "humanities of the digital", provides a platform for what at first glance looks like a tautology: re-thinking computation. Three contributors (Thomas Nyckel, Beatrice Fazi, Andrew Adamatzky) will present such topics for discussion: spheres of computability, contingent computation, and prototypes of unconventional computers.


When & Where: Wednesday, 17th october 2018, 2pm-8pm, Media Theater (Georgenstraße 47, 10117 Berlin, room 0.01) (Google Maps)

Host and moderation: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst

Organization: Dr. Stefan Höltgen




Time Speaker/Program Title
14:15-14:30 Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst Opening
14:30-15:15 Thomas Nyckel (MA) The Sphere of Computability or How to Address Computation in Its Own Right
15:15-16:00 Discussion  
16:00-16:30 Coffee Break  
16:30-17:15 Dr. Beatrice Fazi Contingent Computation
17:15-18:00 Discussion  
18:00-18:15 Break  
18:15-19:00 Prof. Dr. Andrew Adamatzky How to make an unconventional computer
19:00-19:45 Discussion  
20:00 End  




Thomas Nyckel: The Sphere of Computability or How to Address Computation in Its Own Right
In the first part of the talk certain insights into the local media theory will be addressed. The aim is to sketch out some baselines of the media theoretical and media-archaeological investigations currently carried out at the institute – insights that should provide material for further discussions during the conference. In the second part of the talk a particular way of how to treat computation analytically will be suggested. The core idea is that if media theoretical or philosophical analyses of computation are to be carried out in a meaningful way, computation has to be separated – at least heuristically – from its alleged intertwinings with concepts like “human mind” and “real world” by re-thinking it as an entity in its own right. To outline one possibility how such an endeavour could be done the concept of the sphere of computability will be sketched, starting with the turing machine from 1936 and concluding with some results regarding our understanding of computation and what this shift of perspective renders possible.


Beatrice Fazi: Contingent Computation

Contemporary debates on computational culture are in a strange predicament. On the one hand, there is much excitement about the possibility that algorithmic processing could produce new forms of thinking, acting and perceiving. On the other hand, however, there remains a sense in which these natively digital forms of thinking, acting and perceiving are inferior to those originated from lived experience, precisely because digital computing involves a matrix of discrete relations, in which, it is said, there is no room for the generative potential of indeterminacy. From this perspective, computation is said to simply appropriate and represent reality through the binary calculation of probabilities. In consequence, there is said to be no novelty in computation: only the repetition of the preprogrammed.  

In this talk, which draws from the research published in my book Contingent Computation (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018), I will present some speculative hypotheses aimed to challenge that view. Through a novel philosophical reading of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and of Turing’s notion of incomputability I will propose that computation does not only reduce, represent and simplify, but that complexity, dynamism and infinity can be found within its quantitative, discrete algorithmic operations. An ontology of contingency should be identified at the formal level of the computational system. Computation is a process of determining indeterminacy. This indeterminacy, however, is internal to the process itself, and a condition for computation’s ontological production.


Andrew Adamatzky: How to make an unconventional computer

What is unconventional today will be conventional tomorrow.  Designs being standard in the past are seen now as a novelty. Unconventional computing might be seen as a niche for interdisciplinary science, a crossbreed of computer science, physics, mathematics, chemistry, electronic engineering, biology, materials science and nanotechnology. The aims are to uncover and exploit principles and mechanisms of information processing in, and functional properties of, physical, chemical and living systems to develop efficient algorithms, design optimal architectures and manufacture working prototypes of future and emergent computing devices. Theories usually mean nothing, apart of self-gratification of their originators, therefore we focus on the tangible prototypes of unconventional computing devices. We will demonstrate how specialised processors can be manufactured from excitable chemical medium, slime mould, fungi, plants and liquid marbles.



Short Bios:


Thomas Nyckel studied philosophy, musicology and media science. His master’s thesis »Computability as the Sphere of Digital Media« was awarded the Humboldt prize in 2017. Currently he is part of the doctoral program Gendered Configurations of Humans and Machines (KoMMa.G). Interdisciplinary Analyses of Technology at the Technical University Braunschweig. The title of his PhD project is »Artifical Intelligence. The Imitation of Humans in Digital Machines«. Thomas Nyckel is also working as a research assistant at the Institute of Flight Guidance in Braunschweig and has been teaching at the Humboldt University Berlin, the Technical University Braunschweig and the University Göttingen. (Homepage)


M. Beatrice Fazi is Research Fellow at the Sussex Humanities Lab (University of Sussex, United Kingdom). Her primary areas of expertise are the philosophy of computation, the philosophy of technology and the emerging field of media philosophy. Her current work investigates the limits and potentialities of formal reasoning in relation to computation, and aims to offer a reconceptualisation of contingency within formal axiomatic systems vis-à-vis technoscientific notions of incompleteness and incomputability. This research is part of a monograph, Contingent Computation (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018), on how indeterminacy shapes the ontological foundation of computational aesthetics. (Homepage)


Andrew Adamatzky is Professor in Unconventional Computing  in the Department of Computer Science and Director of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory, University of the West of England, Bristol,  UK.  He does research in  reaction-diffusion computing, cellular automata, physarum computing, massive parallel computation, applied mathematics, collective intelligence and robotics, bionics, computational psychology, non-linear science, novel hardware, and future and emergent computation. (Homepage)