AIMS Project

The Agency & Intelligence on Multiple Scales (AIMS) Project is focused on developing an empirically informed multi-scale account of the role of agency in intelligent action.

AIMS is led by Dr. Patrick McGivern, with Dr. Nick Brancazio assisting as a postdoctoral fellow. AIMS is funded by grants from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (“Intelligent Agency on Multiple Scales”, 2020 – 2022), and from UOW’s Global Challenges initiative (“Minimal Models for Collective Intelligence”, 2018 – 2020).

AIMS will involve a series of research collaborations at UOW and abroad in order to understand the ways in which the concept of agency varies as we consider intelligent actions – such as sensing, remembering, and learning – in systems occupying different spatial and temporal scales. Distinctions between routine, mechanical – but perhaps fortunate – behaviours and genuinely intelligent ones are often based on the concept of agency. Genuinely intelligent behaviours do not just exhibit a particular behavioural profile (i.e., moving toward the richer of two food sources, or away from the greater of two threats), but they do so in a particularly ‘agential’ way. However, the concept of agency itself is often characterised in terms that are biased towards human agency, and this makes its application to non-human cases problematic. The goal of AIMS is to develop an account of agency that varies appropriately with changes in scale, giving us a better understanding of its role in research on intelligent activity in bacteria, insects, slime moulds, plants, and active materials.

The Inaugural AIMS Research Workshop was held at the University of Wollongong’s main campus on March 13th, 2020. Speakers were Carrie Figdor and Pamela Lyon.

The second research workshop (“Exploring Intelligence”) took place on June 12th, 2020. Speakers were Ken Cheng and Madeleine Beekman.

Our third workshop (“Learning and Preferences”) featured speakers Lee Yian Chew and David Spurrett and took place on August 27th, 2020.

Our last (and largest) workshop of 2020 (“Minimal Systems, Agency, and Intelligence”) happened on November 19th & 20th with a stellar lineup: Randall Beer, Matthew Egbert, Michael Levin, Pamela Lyon, Ximena Nelson, and Matthew Sims.

Our first event of 2021 (“Biological Agents: Subjectivity, Identity, and the Self”) took place on March 26th and featured speakers Anne Sophie Meincke and Alison Hanson.

In July 2021, we had Christina Oettmeier and Matt Sims join us for our second event (“Non-neural cognition: How smart is slime?”).

Many events to come in 2021! Please follow us on twitter @mcgivernlab or sign up for our mailing list here for information.