President's Theme Statement

Where is the I in AI and the meaning in information?
Can IS4SI contribute to a mindful and ethical global infosphere?

President's theme statement for the IS4SI 2019 Summit:

The information revolution-initiated in the mid-20th Century by the theoretical insights of Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, John Von Neumann, and innumerable others-was made possible by setting aside issues of meaning and significance in order to derive precise theoretical tools for measuring and controlling information. But with the explosive evolution of information technologies, these once ignorable attributes of information have now become matters of global importance. We are racing toward a future created in this mindless sense of information. Is this inevitable? Is it desirable? Are we able to change course?

Advances in machine learning coupled with the exponential growth of data collected by social media, search engines, commercial enterprises, financial institutions, and government surveillance programs create unprecedented capabilities for social control and ideological manipulation. These massive amounts of data combined with the complexity and near inscrutability of deep neural-net based machine learning make human oversight of these processes increasingly unattainable. The result is we are ceding more and more control of our lives to autonomous computational systems whose decision-making logic we are no longer able to fully comprehend or control. And at the same time the reach of these systems encompasses every part of the globe and extends into nearly every aspect of human life.

In response to pressing global crises and the explosion of these information technologies many scholars are increasingly motivated to rethink the potential emergence of an autonomously adaptive global intelligence, whether by design or just incidental to our rush to adopt information technologies of ever greater power and autonomy. Whether or not this is intended, giant corporations and governments are currently racing each other to control this uncertain territory. All the while our understanding of how meanings and values emerge from the web of information-sharing, data analysis, and automated communications remains under-developed and often considered superfluous.

The possibility that our technological advances could produce a sort of worldwide IT superorganism, a global AI, or global mind is also no longer mere science fiction. If an increasingly autonomous network of intelligent systems is inevitably being brought into existence without carefully considering the "I" in AI (i.e. the agency, sentience, subjectivity, and beneficiary we intuitively associate with our own intelligence) and the meanings conveyed and created in these networks, we risk remaking ourselves as gadgets and widgets in a kind of global virtual reality video game.

As one of the only organizations dedicated to the widest and deepest understanding of the concept of information, it should be a core mission of IS4SI to keep these issues at the forefront of our explorations. Our success or failure to make sense of these remaining mysteries lurking within the concept of information will determine whether our future is controlled by minds or by golems, and whether these will act ethically or merely efficiently.

Towards this end, the 2019 IS4SI Summit in Berkeley features keynote presentations by prominent researchers, scholars, and commentators from Silicon Valley, the Bay Area, and around the world who have contributed to the development these new technologies or who have been critical to our understanding of their wider implications for the future.

We also invite short papers and presentation proposals from students, educators, and professionals from all fields with an interest in the concept of information, to offer their analyses and reflections on these and related issues. Although the call for proposals includes specific topic sessions and nine miniconferences (see SUBMISSIONS) that you are welcome to contribute to, you are also invited to contribiute a presentation on any area of information science, philosophy, and sociology.

Terrence Deacon

Professor of Anthropology and Cognitive Science
University of California, Berkeley
and current President of IS4SI