St Hilda's College
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Kathy Wilkes Memorial Conference 2024

10 June 2024

"Trinity Term has been a busy one for Philosophy at St Hilda’s. We started the term with the Kathy Wilkes Memorial Conference on the 26th and 27th of April – Friday and Saturday of 1st week! This was the third in our series of conferences commemorating Dr Wilkes. In 2022 the College launched a collaboration between the Inter-University Centre (IUC) in Dubrovnik and the Herbert Simon Society (HSS) in Turin in order to keep alive the memory of Dr Kathleen Vaughn Wilkes."

"Kathy was an eminent philosopher of mind and active fighter for academic freedom in both the Czech Republic (the former Czechoslovakia) and Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia). It is especially important in our turbulent times that we remember the political engagement of an academic like Kathy. Generations of philosophers remember Kathy’s response to support the beleaguered academics in Czechoslovakia by attending their underground seminars (which were disrupted by the secret police and Kathy expelled from the country). And the people of Dubrovnik remember Kathy both at the IUC, where she ran philosophy seminars and conferences before, during, and after the war of independence, and in the city more generally. One can find a plaque situated just outside the city walls that commemorates Kathy’s bravery and support for the people of Dubrovnik. Indeed, such is the affection that the people of the city hold for Kathy that the Croatian Ambassador suggested that the College collaborate with the IUC to maintain the connection that Kathy had forged with that city, and the idea was born to hold an annual conference to commemorate and remember Kathy. When Professor Riccardo Viale, who collaborated with Kathy to publish Modelling the Mind with Clarendon Press, heard about this collaboration he suggested that we include the HSS. It was agreed that we rotate the conference each year between the cities of Dubrovnik, Oxford and Turin. The collaboration was launched in 2022 in Dubrovnik and it was followed by a conference at St Hilda’s in the Spring of 2023."

"This year it was the turn of Turin. We met in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Turin and our topic was Large Language Models (LLM’S) and our aim was to explore the behavioural and ethical challenges that they pose to society. Two of our speakers had to drop out at the very last moment (although Professor Viale stepped in at the last moment to take the place of one of the speakers). All the papers were excellent, and the discussions following each of the papers more than made up for any gaps in the programme."

"Professor Papineau, professor of philosopher at King’s College London who has published extensively in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind, spoke to us about the moral standing of ‘artificial creatures’. Our Croatian speaker Tvrtko Tadić gave us the industry’s perspective on the science and practice of LMS’s. A former Post-Doc in the Department of Mathematics, Dr Tadić was well-placed to give as this perspective as he is presently Senior Applied Scientist at Microsoft Search, Assistant and Intelligence, where he develops intelligent search solutions for Microsoft Office. He belongs to the Graph Intelligence Sciences team, which leverages the complex network of Office 365 entities (such as documents, messages, users, events, etc.) to enhance search and discovery within Office 365 His team is currently working on integrating the insights from this entity network with large language models. Lucas Meier, a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government spoke to us about some work he was engaged in Germany which looked to incorporate LLM’s into medical diagnostics. Edoardo Datteri, Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of Milano-Bicocca and Director of the RobotiCSS Lab (Laboratory of Robotics for the Cognitive and Social Sciences), spoke to us about the challenges of attributing mental states to robots. And, finally, Professor Viale summarized some of the socio-economic consequences – both good and bad – of the employment of LLM’s. All who attended can testify to the stimulating discussions that followed each of the papers.

The first of our Kathy Wilkes Memorial Conferences has been published in a Special Issue of the Croatian Journal of Philosophy (the CJP). Here is the link for those who may be interested to read the papers from that session: The second conference will be published in a special issue of the CJP in the autumn, and the third will be published in 2025. Kathy was ahead of her time with her interests in psychology and neuroscience as well as philosophy, and her work continues to be remembered in the research of those working in these areas today."

Dr Anita Avramides, Emeritus Fellow