The conference, which took place from the 4th to the 6th and had nearly 500 attendees, was organised by Minding Animals International (a network of over 3,000 academics, artists, activists and advocates, dedicated to the study and protection of nonhuman animals) as well as Utrecht University’s Ethics Institute, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Philosophy Department. During the event experts in animal philosophy, ethics, advocacy, welfare, behaviour, cognition and emotions came together to discuss their work under this year’s theme: “Building Bridges between Science, the Humanities and Ethics”.
The programme, which included hundreds of talks, nearly a dozen keynotes, several study circles and panels, a few film projections and two public lectures, featured world-class figures in animal-related science. The opening lecture was by Nobel Laureate John Coetzee (Professor of Modern Dutch Literature at Utrecht University) while the closing lecture was by world-famous cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff (Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado). Other keynote speakers and panellists included the likes of Harriet Ritvo (Prof of History at MIT), Peter Singer (Prof of Philosophy at Princeton), Dale Jemieson (Prof of Environmental Studies at NYU), Colin Allen (Prof of Cognitive Science and History & Philosophy of Science at Indiana), Raj Panjwani (Lawyer at the Supreme Court of India), and many others of comparable calibre.
Although it was important to talk about ACI with an audience of animal experts, such an audience might have either not seen the point of ACI or even see it as a dangerous endeavour. However, not only did Minding Animal’s audience seem to see the point of ACI, they seemed to see merit and importance in this new research area and its animal-centred perspective. Marc Bekoff, for one, had very encouraging words for the development of ACI, on the grounds that it seeks to make our world more “animal-friendly”, as he put it. This seems encouraging for any computing researcher who is interested in venturing into ACI: if most computer scientists don’t get ACI yet, animal scientists do!