Brief report on AGI-08

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Mar 08 2008 - 09:51:26 MST

Hi all,

The AGI-08 conference ( occurred last weekend in Memphis...!

I had hoped to write up a real scientific summary of AGI-08, but at
the moment it doesn't look like I'll find the time, so instead I'll
send out this briefer and more surface-level summary...

Firstly, the conference went VERY well. The tone was upbeat, the
discussions were animated and intelligent, and all in all there was a
feel of real excitement about having so many AGI people in one place
at one time.

Attendance was good: We originally anticipated 80 registrants but had 120+.

The conference room was a futuristic setting called "The Zone" that
looked sorta like the Star Trek bridge -- with an excellent if mildly
glitchy video system that, during Q&A sessions, showed the questioner
up on a big screen in front of the room.

The unconventional format (brief talks followed by long
discussion/Q&A) sessions was both productive and popular. The whole
thing was video-ed and at some point the video record will be made
available online (I don't know the intended timing of this yet).

The proceedings volume was released by IOS Press a few weeks before
the conference and is a thick impressive-looking tome.

The interdisciplinary aspect of the conference seemed to work well --
e.g. the session on virtual-worlds AI was chaired by Sibley Verbeck
(CEO of Electric Sheep Company) and the session on neural nets was
chaired by Randal Koene (a neuroscientist from Boston University).
This definitely made the discussions deeper than if it had been an
AI-researchers-only crowd.

Plenty of folks from government agencies and large and small
corporations were in attendance, as well as of course many AI
academics and non-affiliated AGI enthusiasts. Among the AI academics
were some highly-respected stalwarts of the AI community, alongside
the new generation...

There seemed to be nearly as many Europeans as Americans there, which
was a pleasant surprise, and some Asians as well.

The post-conference workshop on ethical, sociocultural and
futurological issues drew about 60 people and was a bit of a
free-for-all, with many conflicting perspectives presented quite
emphatically and vociferously. I think most of that discussion was
NOT captured on video (it took place in a different room where
video-ing was less convenient), though the workshop talks themselves

The media folks in attendance seemed most energized by the section on
AI in virtual worlds, which is because in this section the presenters
(me, Andrew Shilliday, and Martin Magnusson) showed movies of cute
animated characters doing stuff. This gave the nontechnical observers
something to grab onto, which most of the other talks did not.

As at the earlier AGI-06 workshop, one of the most obvious
observations after listening to the talks was that a lot of AGI
research programs are pursuing fairly similar architectures and ideas
but using different languages to describe what they're doing. This
suggests that making a systematic effort at finding a common language
and really understanding the true overlaps and differences of the
various approaches, would be very beneficial. There was some talk of
organizing a small, invitation-only workshop among practicing AGI
system architects, perhaps in Fall 2008, with a view toward making
progress in this direction.

Much enthusiasm was expressed for an AGI-09, and it was decided that
this will likely be located in Washington DC, a location that will
give us the opportunity to use the conference to help energize various
government agencies about AGI.

There was also talk about the possibility of an AGI online technical
journal, and a group of folks will be following that up, led by Pei

An "AGI Roadmap" project was also discussed, which would involve
aligning different cognitive architectures currently proposed insofar
as possible, but also go beyond that. Another key aspect of the
roadmap might be an agreement on certain test environments or tasks
that could be used to compare and explore various AGI architectures in
more of a common way than is now possible.

Lots of ideas ... lots of enthusiasm ... a strong feeling of
community-building ... so, I'm really grateful to Stan Franklin, Pei
Wang, Sidney DeMello and Bruce Klein and everyone else who helped to
organize the conference.

Finally, an interesting piece of feedback was given by my mother, who
knows nothing about AGI research (she runs a social service agency)
and who did not attend the conference but read the media coverage
afterwards. What she said is that the media seems to be taking a far
less skeptical and mocking tone toward AGI these days, as opposed to
7-10 years ago when I first started appearing in the media now and
then. I think this is true, and it signifies a real shift in cultural
attitude. This shift is what allowed The Singularity Is Near to sell
as many copies as it did; and what encouraged so many AI academics to
come to a mildly out-of-the-mainstream conference on AGI. Society,
including the society of scientists, is starting to wake up to the
notion that, given modern technology and science, human-level AGI is
no longer a pipe dream but a potential near-term reality. w00t! Of
course there is a long way to go in terms of getting this kind of work
taken as seriously as it should be, but at least things seem to be
going in the right direction.

-- Ben

Ben Goertzel, PhD
CEO, Novamente LLC and Biomind LLC
Director of Research, SIAI
"If men cease to believe that they will one day become gods then they
will surely become worms."
-- Henry Miller

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