8-11 Oct 2015 Pisa (Italy)
One of the most defining characteristics of our contemporary world is without doubt the development of computing machines and their sciences. Its rapid expansion in many directions is witnessed not only by the proliferation of computers (especially since he apparition of the personal computer) or by the ubiquity of miniaturized computing devices, but also in the coupling of computing with communication and information technologies, a coupling of which the delocalized massive data processing is the most famous example. The rise of computer and its sciences in the last thirty years has been so intense, rapid and systematic, it has overturned so many aspects of our environment, it has transformed so many dimensions of our habitus, that, even despite this recentness, the humanities have begun quite early to reflect upon the economic, social cultural, juridic, ethical issues that are at stake with computing.
Although contemporary philosophy has occasionally and indirectly taken up the question of computation (mostly from the perspective of artificial intelligence or of philosophy of the mind), scientific research has rarely focused on the notion of computation as such. The same goes for historians, as Michael Mahoney had it, “the computer is not one thing but many different things, and the same holds true of computing” and many indeed have struggled to give the computer and computation its historical due. Rare also are those who have studied what is a computation nowadays: A theoretical, polymorphic object, transfigurated by recent work in theoretical computer science, that engages the dimensions of time, space and information.
The phenomenon of computing is socially mostly associated with its most visible traits (the emergence and transformation of technological objects: machines, devices and interfaces), and by its most manifest effects (the visible transformations that accompany the intrusion of this technology in all domains of human activity). Therefore, computing is often perceived, also by philosophers or historians, as an applied technology rather than as a science, as a know-how of sophisticated engineering rather than as a fundamental discipline in its own right. Moreover, the ever diminishing permeability of the frontiers between different scientific communities, especially when the “technical” opposes the “philosophical”, and the intrinsic difficulty of mastering the fields of knowledge involved (with theoretical computer science being a very young discipline in full development), slows down the apprehension of the fact that a new discipline, the science of computing, has been born and hinders the constitution of a history and philosophy of computing in the proper sense.
As in its previous editions, the conference aims at bringing together researchers interested in the historical developments of computers and their sciences, as well as those reflecting on the sociological and philosophical issues springing from the rise and ubiquity of computing machines in the contemporary landscape. The conference strives for creating an interdisciplinary focus on computer science, stimulating a dialogue between the historical and philosophical viewpoints.