Innateness in Neuroscience and AI

Online Symposium

September 9th 2021

Rethinking innateness once more

Present from birth, independent from experience, unlearned. Universal, heritable, evolved. Genetically encoded, hardwired, preprogrammed.

The concept of innateness has many meanings – it was many times claimed to be hazy, not well-defined, and useless. Yet it is still there: used in next reincarnations of the nature-nurture debate, political and social discussions and – most recently – in debates over the future of AI. Many of us claim that without taking innateness in consideration we will not understand the brain, we will not be able to change our society and we will not develop the real artificial general intelligence.

Is it true? Why is the concept of innateness still so viable? Can we precisely define it, and does it really matter if we can’t? How should it be used in neuroscience, psychology or AI? What are the relationships between evolution, genes and development? Should we keep the concept of innateness, abandon it – or just modify it?

Our symposium is aimed to try to answer those questions. With our speakers – philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists and AI researchers – we will try to map different meanings of innateness in different fields, discuss if those meanings are compatible and what are implications of it; we will think how this concept can be used and what are the limits of its usefulness.

We will conclude our meeting with an online discussion.

Invited speakers:

  • Iris Berent (Northeastern University)
  • Paul Cisek (University of Montreal)
  • Thomas Dietterich (Oregon State University)
  • Alison Gopnik (UC Berkeley)
  • Gregory Kohn (University of North Florida)
  • Melanie Mitchell (Santa Fe Institute)
  • Clement Moulin-Frier (INRIA)
  • Sebastian Risi (IT University of Copenhagen)
  • Richard Samuels (Ohio State University)

The Symposium will take place 9:30 AM – 6:45 PM EST.


Please find the full abstract book here

9:30 Introduction
9:45 Richard Samuels Innate Necessarily So: On the indispensable role of the innateness concept in cognitive science, and perhaps also AI
10:25 Iris Berent How we reason about innateness
11:05 Gregory Kohn The Contingent Animal: Why behavioral development still doesn’t need innateness
12:15Alison Gopnik Reconstructing constructivism: How probabilistic models can reconcile nativism and empiricism in cognitive science and AI
12:55 Paul Cisek The long evolutionary history of the brain’s functional architecture
1:35 Clément Moulin-Frier The role of self-organization mechanisms in the emergence of behavioral regularity and diversity
2:45 Sebastian Risi Born to Learn: Combining Innate Mechanisms and Learning in Evolving Agents
3:25 Melanie Mitchell Abstraction and Analogy in AI: The Role of Core Knowledge Systems
4:05 Thomas Dietterich  Innateness in Machine Learning
5:15Discussion: The Future of Innateness


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