Research Symposium

The research symposium on Friday 11th, May will reflect on four key themes in Turing’s work, representing the diversity of Turing’s legacy, in Informatics and beyond.  The four themes are Artificial Intelligence, Computability and Algorithms, Computer Hardware and modelling the brain, and Morphogenesis.  This last topic makes links to colleagues in biological sciences and chemistry as Turing explored the chemical basis of morphogenesis (how the zebra got its stripes) and predicted oscillating chemical reactions (the biochemical clock).  For each theme a distinguished speaker will give a retrospective view of Turing’s legacy, complemented by a presentation on a related on-going piece of work from a rising research star.

You can download the complete schedule here

You can book a place at the symposium through the Royal Society of Edinburgh website:

Confirmed speakers:

David Harel, Weizmann Institute, Computability and Algorithms (
Barbara Grosz, Harvard University, Artificial Intelligence (
Philip Maini, Oxford University, Morphogenesis (
Steve Furber, Manchester University, Computer Hardware and modelling the brain (
Elham Kashefi, University of Edinburgh, Quantum computability and Algorithms (
Maja Pantic, Imperial College and University of Twente, Affective and Behavioural Computing, (
Jamie Davies, University of Edinburgh, Synthetic biology approaches to Turing patterns
Kerstin Dautenhahn, University of Hertfordshire, Human-Robot Interaction (


David Harel

“Standing on the Shoulders of a Giant: One Person’s Experience of Turing’s Impact”

The talk will briefly describe three of Turing’s major achievements, in three different fields: computability, biological modeling and artificial intelligence.  Interspersed with this, I will explain how each of them directly motivated and inspired me to carry out a variety of research projects over a period of 30 years, the results of which can all be viewed humbly as extensions and generalizations of Turing’s pioneering and ingenious insights.

Elham Kashefi

“Quantum Turing Test”

A fundamental goal in quantum information processing is to test a machine’s (or more generally nature’s) ability to exhibit quantum behaviour. The most celebrated result in this domain, which has been also demonstrated experimentally, is the celebrated Bell Theorem that verifies the non-local nature of quantum mechanics.  Could we generalise such approaches to verify that a given device is in fact taking advantage of quantum mechanics rather than being a disguised classical machine. Considering the exponential regime of quantum mechanics, the issue of efficiency of such tests are the key challenge from the complexity point of view. On the other hand, from the foundational point of view, it is an intriguing open question whether a fully classical scheme could verify any quantum properties of a larger system while being experimentally feasible. We present some recent progress towards this direction that has also surprising consequences on an entirely different open question, the existence of fully homomorphic encryption schemes.

Barbara Grosz

“What Question Would Turing Pose Today?”

In 1950, when Turing proposed to replace the question “Can machines think?” with the question “Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?” computer science was not yet a field of study, Shannon’s theory of information had just begun to change the way people thought about communication, and psychology was only starting to look beyond Behaviorism.  It is stunning that so many predictions in Turing’s 1950 Mind paper were right.  In the decades since that paper appeared, with its inspiring challenges, research in computer science, neuroscience, and the behavioral sciences has radically changed thinking about mental processes and communication. Turing, were he writing now, might still replace “Can machines think?” with an operational challenge, but I expect he would propose a very different game.  This talk will describe research on collaboration, collective intentionality, and human-computer communication that suggests abilities to work together with others and to participate in purposeful dialogue are essential elements of human intelligence.  It will present results in several areas of artificial intelligence that support the imagining of computer systems able to exhibit such abilities.

Maja Pantic

“Machine Analysis of Facial Behaviour”

Facial behaviour is our preeminent means to communicating affective and social signals. There is evidence now that patterns of facial behaviour can also be used to identify people. This talk discusses a number of components of human facial behavior, how they can be automatically sensed and analysed by computer, what is the past research in the field conducted by the iBUG group at Imperial College London, and how far we are from enabling computers to understand human facial behavior.

Philip Maini

“Turing’s Theory of Developmental Pattern Formation”

Turing’s seminal paper, “The chemical basis of morphogenesis”, published in 1952 proposed that pattern formation in early embryonic development was an emergent, or self-organising, phenomenon driven by diffusion. This ingeneous and highly counter-intuitive idea has formed the basis for an enormous number of subsequent studies from both experimental and theoretical viewpoints. We critique the model, consider applications to skeletal patterns in the limb, animal coat markings, fish pigmentation, hair patterning, and describe how present-day research is still influenced by this paper.

Jamie Davies

“Synthetic biology approaches to Turing patterns”

Embryologists have classically approached the ideas in Turing’s “The chemical basis of morphogenesis” in two ways: (a) they have modelled embryos in silico to see if Turing patterning could make a particular pattern in principle, and (b) they have sought evidence, from gene expression patterns and knockout phenotypes, for Turing patterning  in vivo. We are taking a third approach, effectively a hybrid of the other two and of synthetic biology: we seek to assemble a synthetic Turing patterning system in cultures of living cells. Here, we will present our design, how it behaved in models, and will describe the state of our construction at the time of the meeting.

Steve Furber

“Building Brains”

When his concept of the universal computing machine finally became an engineering reality, Alan Turing speculated on the prospects for such machines to emulate human thinking. Although computers now routinely perform impressive feats of logic and analysis such as searching the vast complexities of the global internet for information in a second or two, they have progressed much more slowly than Turing anticipated towards achieving normal human levels of intelligent behaviour, or perhaps “common sense”. Why is this?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the principles of information processing in the brain are still far from understood. But progress in computer technology means that we can now realistically contemplate building computer models of the brain that can be used to probe these principles much more readily than is feasible, or ethical, with a living biological brain.

Kerstin Dautenhahn

“Learning about Human-Robot Interaction from Robot-Assisted Therapy for Children with Autism”

Human-Robot Interaction is a growing area of research where researchers try to understand how to design robotic systems that can interact with people.  My research focuses on companion robots that can provide useful assistance to users. Two application areas are of particular interest, namely assistance for elderly users in a home context, and robot-assisted therapy for children with autism. The latter is an area that I have been studying since 1998. The talk will introduce KASPAR, a robot designed and built in our research group, being used since 2005 in order to target interactions with children with autism that address particular developmental or therapeutic needs of the individual children. The talk will outline the particular challenges in this domain, and lessons learnt from this research with implications for the field of Human-Robot Interaction in general and robot-assisted therapy in particular.

This is a full day event and lunch will be included in the registration fee.
It will take place in the Informatics Forum.