Australian Humanist Convention 2017

Ethics In An Uncertain World

After an incredibly successful convention in Brisbane in May, 2016, the Humanist Society of Victoria together with the Council of Australian Humanist Societies will be hosting Australian Humanists at the start of April to discuss and learn about some of the most pressing issues facing society today and how Humanists and the world view we hold can help to shape a better future for all of society.

Official Conference LinkGet Tickets Here | Gala Dinner | FAQs | Meetup Link | Google Map Link


AC Grayling – Humanism, the individual and society
Peter Singer – Public Ethics in the Trump Era
Clive Hamilton – Humanism and the Anthropocene
Meredith Doig – Interbelief presentations in schools
Monica Bini – World-views in the school curriculum
James Fodor – ???
Adam Ford – Humanism & Population Axiology

SciFuture supports and endorses the Humanist Convention in 2017 in efforts to explore ethics foundational in enlightenment values, march against prejudice, and help make sense of the world. SciFuture affirms that human beings (and indeed many other nonhuman animals) have the right to flourish, be happy, and give meaning and shape to their own lives.

Peter Singer wrote about Taking Humanism Beyond Speciesism – Free Inquiry, 24, no. 6 (Oct/Nov 2004), pp. 19-21

AC Grayling’s talk on Humanism at the British Humanists Association:


Conference: Thinking Machines in the Physical World

“Thinking Machines in the Physical World” invites cross-disciplinary conversations about the opportunities and threats presented by advances in cognitive computing:
  – What concrete, real-world possibilities does intelligence-focused technology open up?
  – What potential effects will “smart computers” exert on labor and jobs around the globe?
  – What are the broader social implications of these changes?

When: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 8:30 AM until Friday ~6pm (then dinner)
Where: Melbourne Uni Law School Building, Level 10 185 Pelham Street, Carlton

Keynotes (see details here):

Prof Brian Anderson – Distinguished Professor at ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Dr James Hughes – Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

Prof M. Vidyasagar – Cecil & Ida Green Chair in Systems Biology Science

Prof Judy Wajcman – Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics

Dr. Juerg von Kaenel, IBM Research – Cognitive Computing – IBM Watson

Register here | Main website | Program

Professor Graeme Clark, AC Laureate Professor Emeritus  says “It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to welcome your interest in the work of Norbert Wiener and invite you to Melbourne to participate in this important conference.”

Official Website:
Facebook Event:

Rationality & Moral Judgement – Simon Laham

Rationality & Moral Judgement – A view from Moral Psychology. Talk given at EA Global Melbourne 2015. Slides here.

Simon Laham - QandAWhat have we learned from an empirical approach to moral psychology – especially in relation to the role of rationality in most every day morality?
What are some lessons that the EA movement can take from moral psychology?

Various moral theorists over the years have had different emphasis on the roles that the head and heart play in moral judgement. Early conceptions of the role of the head in morality were that it drives moral judgement. A Kantian might say that the head/reasoning drives moral judgement – when presented with a dillema of some kind, the human engages with ‘system 2’ like processes in a controlled rational nature. An advocate of a Humean model may favor the idea that emotion or the heart (‘system 1’ thinking) plays the dominant role in moral judgement. Modern psychologists often take a hybrid model where both system 1 and system 2 styles of thinking are at play in contributing to the way we judge right from wrong.

Moral Judgement & Decision making is driven by a variety of factors:

  • Emotions (e.g., Valdesolo & DeSteno, 2006)
  • Values (e.g., Crone & Laham, 2015)
  • Relational and group membership concerns (e.g., Cikara et al., 2010)

Across a wide range of studies, a majority of people do not consistently apply abstract moral principles – Moral judgments are not decontextualized, depersonalized and asocial (i.e., not System 2)
Simon Laham - Rationality & Moral Judgement - Effective Altruism Global Melbourne 2015
Not only do people inconsistently apply rationality in moral judgments, many reject the idea that consequentialist rationality should have any place in the moral domain.

  • Appeals to consequentialist logic may backfire (Kreps and Monin, 2014)
  • People who give consequentialist justifications for their moral positions are viewed as less committed and less authentic

Is trying to change people’s minds the best way to expand the EA movement?
Moral judgment is subject to a variety of contextual effects. Knowledge of such effects can be used to ‘nudge’ people towards utilitarianism (see Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

‘Practical’ take-home
Things beside rationality matter in morality and people believe that things beside rationality should matter.
(a) present EA in a manner that does not trade utilitarian options off against deeply held values, identities, or emotions
(b) use decision framing techniques to ‘nudge’ people towards utilitarian choices


Consider watching Simon’s talk at the festival of dangerous ideas about his book ‘The Joy of Sin‘.

Also Simon wrote an article for Huffington post where he says : “I confess it, I am a sinner. I begin most days in a haze of sloth and lust (which, coincidentally, is also how I end most days); gluttony takes hold over breakfast and before I know it I’m well on my way to hell and it’s not yet 9 a.m. Pride, lust, gluttony, greed, envy, sloth and anger, the seven deadly sins, these are my daily companions.

And you? Are you a sinner?

The simple fact is that we all sin (or rather ‘sin’), and we do it all the time. But fear not: the seven deadly sins aren’t as bad for you as you might think.”

Simon Laham BandWSimon Laham is a senior lecturer in the psychology department at Melbourne University. He has worked over the last 8 years on the psychology of morality from the point of view of experimental social psychology.
Key research questions : How do we make moral judgments? How do others influence what we do?

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Science, Technology & the Future

Be Greedy For The Most Good You Can Do – Kerry Vaughan – EA Global Melbourne 2015

Filmed at EA Global Melbourne 2015 Slides of talk are here
Kerry Vaughan discusses:
What is effective altruism? what is it’s history? what isn’t EA? and how to succeed at being an effective altruist.
Approaches to doing good include:
– Being Skeptical – using the case study of play pumps in africa – hoping to utilize the renewable energy of children playing – on the surface it looked like a good idea, but unfortunately it didn’t work – so be skeptical
– Changing your Mind – you can score social points in the EA movement by changing your mind – so yay! Moving beyond entrenched beliefs to better ways of thinking leads decision making – do change your mind, update your beliefs when there is evidence to support you doing so
– Do it! – when you find out better approaches to being altruistic, actually follow up and do it – without getting too involved in theorizing whether you have a moral obligation to solve the problem, just go solve it
– 3 strands to the history of EA – Peter Singer’s work, Holden Karlovsky and Elie Hassenfeld at Give Well, the rationalist movement (inc CFAR)
Kerry then discusses the growth of the EA movement.
Approaches to EA based on evidence (empiricism) and also strong philosophical arguments (esp in the absence of evidence – for instance with Existential Risks or far future scenarios)
How to succeed at EA Global: get help, and make radical life change.

Kerry Vaughan - Be Greedy for the Most Good - EA Global Melbourne 2015 - Effective Altruism 2

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Science, Technology & the Future website

7th Annual Conference of the Australasian Bayesian Network Modelling Society (ABNMS2015)

November 23 – 24, 2015: Pre-Conference Workshop
November 25 – 26, 2015: Conference

[Official Website Here]

Location: Monash University, Caulfield, Melbourne (Australia)
Promo vid | Contact:

Keynote Speakers: The conference organisers are pleased to announce that Dr Bruce Marcot of the US Forest Service, Dan Ababei from Lighttwist Software, Netherlands and Assoc Prof Jonathan Keith from Monash University will deliver the keynote address.

You will be able to register for the tutorials and the conference separately or together.

Bayesian Intelligence blog about the conf

– Dr. Kevin B. Korb is a Director and co-founder of Bayesian Intelligence, and a reader at Monash University. He specializes in the theory and practice of causal discovery of Bayesian networks (aka data mining with BNs), machine learning, evaluation theory, the philosophy of scientific method and informal logic. Email: kevin.korb (at)

Seventh Annual Conference of the Australasian Bayesian Network Modelling Society - Ann E Nicholson– Prof. Ann E. Nicholson is a Director and co-founder of Bayesian Intelligence and a professor at Monash University who specializes in Bayesian network modelling. She is an expert in dynamic Bayesian networks (BNs), planning under uncertainty, user modelling, Bayesian inference methods and knowledge engineering BNs. Email: ann (dot) nicholson (at) bayesian-intelligence (dot) com

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Automating Science: Panel – Stephen Ames, John Wilkins, Greg Restall, Kevin Korb

A discussion among philosophers, mathematicians and AI experts on whether science can be automated, what it means to automate science, and the implications of automating science – including discussion on the technological singularity.

– implementing science in a computer – Bayesian methods – most promising normative standard for doing inductive inference
– vehicle : causal Bayesian networks – probability distributions over random variables showing causal relationships
– probabilifying relationships – tests whose evidence can raise the probability

05:23 does Bayesianism misrepresent the majority of what people do in science?

07:05 How to automate the generation of new hypotheses?
– Is there a clean dividing line between discovery and justification? (Popper’s view on the difference between the context of discovery and context of justification) Sure we discuss the difference between the concepts – but what is the difference between the implementation?

08:42 Automation of Science from beginning to end: concept formation, discovery of hypotheses, developing experiments, testing hypotheses, making inferences … hypotheses testing has been done – through concept formation is an interestingly difficult problem

Panel---Automating-Science-and-Artificial-Intelligence---Kevin-Korb,-Greg-Restall,-John-Wilkins,-Stephen-Ames-1920x10839:38 – does everyone on the panel agree that automation of science is possible? Stephen Ames: not yet, but the goal is imminent, until it’s done it’s an open question – Kevin/John: logically possible, question is will we do it – Greg Restall: Don’t know, can there be one formal system that can generate anything classed as science? A degree of open-endedness may be required, the system will need to represent itself etc (Godel!=mysticism, automation!=representing something in a formal deductive theory)

13:04 There is a Godel theorem that applies to a formal representation for automating science – that means that the formal representation can’t do everything – therefore what’s the scope of a formal system that can automate science? What will the formal representation and automated science implementation look like?

14:20 Going beyond formal representations to automate science (John Searle objects to AI on the basis of formal representations not being universal problem solvers)

15:45 Abductive inference (inference to the best explanation) – & Popper’s pessimism about a logic of discovery has no foundation – where does it come from? Calling it logic (if logic means deduction) is misleading perhaps – abduction is not deductive, but it can be formalised.

17:10 Some classified systems fall out of neural networks or clustering programs – Google’s concept of a cat is not deductive (IFAIK)

19:29 Map & territory – Turing Test – ‘if you can’t tell the difference between the model and the real system – then in practice there is no difference’ – the behavioural test is probably a pretty good one for intelligence

22:03 Discussion on IBM Watson on Jeopardy – a lot of natural language processing but not natural language generation

24:09 Bayesianism – in mathematics and in humans reasoning probabilistically – it introduced the concept of not seeing everything in black and white. People get statistical problems wrong often when they are asked to answer intuitively. Is the technology likely to have a broad impact?

26:26 Human thinking, subjective statistical reasoning – and the mismatch between the public communicative act often sounding like Boolean logic – a mismatch between our internal representation and the tools we have for externally representing likelihoods
29:08 Low hanging fruit in human communication probabilistic reasoning – Bayesian nets and argument maps (Bayesian nets strengths between premises and conclusions)

29:41 Human inquiry, wondering and asking questions – how do we automate asking questions (as distinct from making statements)? Scientific abduction is connected to asking questions – there is no reason why asking questions can’t be automated – there is contrasted explanations and conceptual space theory where you can characterise a question – causal explanation using causal Bayesian networks (and when proposing an explanation it must be supported some explanatory context)

32:29 Automating Philosophy – if you can automate science you can automate philosophy –

34:02 Stanford Computational Metaphysics project (colleagues with Greg Restall) – Stanford Computational Metaphysics project – formalization of representations of relationships between concepts – going back to Leibniz – complex notions can be boiled down to simpler primitive notions and grinding out these primitive notions computationally – they are making genuine discoveries
Weak Reading: can some philosophy be automated – yes
Strong Reading of q: can All of philosophy be automated? – there seem to be some things that count as philosophy that don’t look like they will be automated in the next 10 years

35:41 If what we’re is interested in is to represent and automate the production of reasoning formally (not only to evaluate), as long as the domain is such that we are making claims and we are interested in the inferential connections between the claims, then a lot of the properties of reasoning are subject matter agnostic.

36:46 (Rohan McLeod) Regarding Creationism is it better to think of it as a poor hypothesis or non-science? – not an exclusive disjunct, can start as a poor hypothesis and later become not-science or science – it depends on the stage at the time – science rules things out of contention – and at some point creationism had not been ruled out

38:16 (Rohan McLeod) Is economics a science or does it have the potential to be (or is it intrinsically not possible for it to be a science) and why?
Are there value judgements in science? And if there are how do you falsify a hypothesis that conveys a value judgement? physicists make value judgements on hypothesis “h1 is good, h2 is bad” – economics may have reducible normative components but physics doesn’t (electrons aren’t the kinds of things that economies are) – Michael ??? paper on value judgements – “there is no such thing as a factual judgement that does not involve value” – while there are normative components to economics, it is studied from at least one remove – problem is economists try to make normative judgements like “a good economy/market/corporation will do X”

42:22 Problems with economics – incredibly complex, it’s hard to model, without a model exists a vacuum that gets filled with ideology – (are ideologies normative?)

42:56 One of the problems with economics is it gets treated like a natural system (in physics or chemistry) which hides all the values which are getting smuggled in – commitments and values which are operative and contribute to the configuration of the system – a contention is whether economics should be a science (Kevin: Yes, Stephen: No) – perhaps economics could be called a nascent science (in the process of being born)

44:28 (James Fodor) Well known scientists have thought that their theories were implicit in nature before they found them – what’s the role of intuition in automating science & philosophy? – need intuitions to drive things forward – intuition in the abduction area – to drive inspiration for generating hypothesis – though a lot of what get’s called intuition is really the unconscious processing of a trained mind (an experienced driver doesn’t have to process how to drive a car) – Louis Pasteur’s prepared mind – trained prior probabilities

46:55 The Singularity – disagreement? John Wilkins suspects it’s not physically possible – Where does Moore’s Law (or its equivalents in other hardware paradigms) peter out? The software problem could be solved near or far. Kevin agrees with I.J. Good – recursively improving abilities without (obvious) end (within thermodynamic limits). Kevin Korb explains the intelligence explosion.

50:31 Stephen Ames discusses his view of the singularity – but disagrees with uploading on the grounds of needing to commit to philosophical naturalism

51:52 Greg Restall mistrusts IT corporations to get uploading right – Kevin expresses concerns about using star-trek transporters – the lack of physical continuity. Greg discusses theories of intelligence – planes fly as do birds, but planes are not birds – they are differing

54:07 John Wilkins – way too much emphasis is put on propositional knowledge and communication in describing intelligence – each human has roughly the same amount of processing power – too much rests on academic pretense and conceit.

54:57 The Harvard Rule – under conditions of consistent lighting, feeding etc – the organism will do as it damn well pleases. But biology will defeat simple models.. Also Hulls rule – no matter what the law in biology is there is an exception (inc Hull’s law) – so simulated biology may be difficult. We won’t simulate an entire organism – we can’t simulate a cell. Kevin objects

58:30 Greg R. says simulations and models do give us useful information – even if we isolate certain properties in simulation that are not isolated in the real world – John Wilkins suggests that there will be a point where it works until it doesn’t

1:00:08 One of the biggest differences between humans and mice is 40 million years of evolution in both directions – the problem is in evo biol is your inductive projectability – we’ve observed it in these cases, therefore we expect it in this – it fades out relatively rapidly in direct disproportion to the degree of relatedness

1:01:35 Colin Kline – PSYCHE – and other AI programs making discoveries – David Chalmers have proposed the Hard Problem of Consciousness – pZombies – but we are all pZombies, so we will develop systems that are conscious because there is to such thing as consciousness. Kevin is with Dennet – info processing functioning is what consciousness supervenes upon
Greg – concept formation in systems like PSYCHE – but this milestone might be very early in the development of what we think of as agency – if the machine is worried about being turned off or complains about getting board, then we are onto something

Previous Conference a Success! Science, Technology & the Future

Science, Technology & the Future was held on Nov 30 – Dec 1 2013, Melbourne Australia

What will the future be like?

Right now, the technologies that we use to understand the world are in the process of a major transformation. Almost every field of knowledge is generating vast quantities of data, requiring unprecedented computing power and intelligent algorithms to aid in interpretation. The era of Big Data has well and truly commenced. From predicting future climate, to mapping brain activity, to exploring the universe or simply searching the internet — Big Data, as the name implies, holds massive potential for future research and it’s already here. With immense promise comes great challenges — one of the foremost being how to sift through the deluge of data to garner meaningful insights and translate them into practical innovations. Working out how to advance into personalised medicine from the human genome project, or create massive simulations of the cosmos from satellite and telescope data will occupy many.  We live in extraordinarily exciting times!

Speakers include:

  • Peter Doherty (Nobel Laureate) – Immunologist; named Australian of the Year in 1997 and is listed as an Australian National Treasure,

  • David Pearce – Philosopher and Founder of the World Transhumanist Association who promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the ultimate goal of removing suffering in all sentient life

  • Marcus Hutter – mathematical formalization of Universal Intelligence – known for ‘Universal Intelligence’ a mathematical formalization of general intelligence

  • Scott Watkins – Team Lead of the Organic Photovoltaics project at CSIRO – developing cheaper and faster ways to manufacture flexible solar coatings for many substrates

  • Tim van Gelder – CEO & Founder of Austhink Consulting – worked on augmenting human rationality though refining computer aided design tools like Argument Mapping

  • Drew Berry – 3D Digital Biomedical Visualization at WEHI – has won numerous awards for his amazing biomedical animations

  • Peter Ellerton – director of the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project

With leading scientists and technologists from various disciplines gathered to speak about the future of science and technology, the conference was  a battleground for the science that matters to anyone with a stake in the future. Our society continues to grapple with the ethical implications of developments in science and technology — we aim to bring clarity. At the conference we discussed the promise and perils of machine intelligence, materials science, the future of augmented reality and medicine, and much more.

The Nov 30 – Dec 1 conference took place in a time of great change, and unprecedented risks to global safety and prosperity. Some of these changes may threaten our survival — but let us take solace that great change brings great opportunities. We have the societal framework to deal with increasingly complex problems, harnessing the accumulated weight of thousands of individuals in fields as narrow as a nanotube and as overlapping as the world wide web. Let us take the opportunity to future-proof our efforts and find sustainable and resilient ways forward.


multiple selves

A Conference on Philosophy of Science & Epistemology

Few could predict just how fast and dramatic the social, economic and political impacts of computer technology have been in out lifetimes.

This Summer, leading scientists, inventors and philosophers will gather in Melbourne to discuss philosophy of science & epistemology.
Previous conferences 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013 each drew over a hundred local, interstate and international enthusiasts to hear first-rate speakers from a range of fields. In 2014, we have again assembled a stellar line-up – Including Tim van Gelder, Philosopher and Founder of WTA David Pearce, Kevin Korb, John Wilkins, Neil Thomason and many others.

The conference will explore the important philosophical dimensions of Science.
There’s simply no better way to glimpse the future of these exciting technologies.

This conference is brought to you by Humanity+ & Science, Technology & the Future

Humanity+ explores how society might use and profit from a variety of creative and innovative thought.

Join in an exciting weekend as we explore the surprising future. See you there!

The Future of Life in the Universe – Lawrence Krauss at the Singularity Summit Australia 2011

Prof. Lawrence M. Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist with wide research interests, including the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, where his studies include the early universe, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics. He has investigated questions ranging from the nature of exploding stars to issues of the origin of all mass in the universe. He was born in New York City and moved shortly thereafter to Toronto, Canada, where he grew up. He received undergraduate degrees in both Mathematics and Physics at Carleton University. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1982), then joined the Harvard Society of Fellows (1982-85). He joined the faculty of the departments of Physics and Astronomy at Yale University as assistant professor in 1985, and associate professor in 1988. In 1993 he was named the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Chairman of the department of Physics at Case Western Reserve University. He served in the latter position for 12 years, until 2005. During this period he built up the department, which was ranked among the top 20 Physics Graduate Research Programs in the country in a 2005 national ranking. Among the major new initiatives he spearheaded are included the creation of one of the top particle astrophysics experimental and theoretical programs in the US, and the creation of a groundbreaking Masters Program in Physics Entrepreneurship. In 2002, he was named Director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case.
Video of talk:

Videoed at the Singularity Summit Australia 2011:

Lawrence Krauss - Singularity Summit 2011

Lawrence Krauss – the Universe is Really Really Big!