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Previous Programs

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World
Awardees

2019 Information as Fuel
Awardees

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Samuel Craig Fletcher
Regents of the University of Minnesota

Project Title

Agential Abstraction/Representation Theory

Project Summary

What's the difference between a rock and a laptop? One is intuitively a computer, and the other not. Is there a principled difference between objects that compute, and those that don't? Does the universe compute, in some sense? Philosophers and cognitive scientists have developed different ways of understanding how the brain might be a computer, but such accounts of physical computation--what it means for a physical system to compute--are increasingly relevant in the natural sciences. Not only have biologists and computer scientists looked to the natural world to find systems that might compute with hardware very different from electronic laptops, but physicists have sought to understand the working of quantum mechanics and the universe itself in computational terms. This project develops Agential Abstraction/Representation Theory (AART), a new account of what it means for a physical object to compute that centers intelligent agents. According to AART, computation occurs whenever an intelligent agent actually and essentially uses an object to compute. The project will then explore the implications of this theory for understanding physical and biological systems in computational terms and for the energy costs of computing.



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