Igor Aleksander

Phenomenology in Computation (and the visual arts?)

Igor Aleksander


Phenomenology primarily relates to discussions of consciousness by philosophers of the 20th century: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre and Heidegger.  It is a philosophy of  personal, individual reality rather than the absolute reality of ontologists and functionalists. I shall try to give thumbnail sketch views of these forbidding sounding concepts as they have affected me as a computer scientist who tries to understand whether machines may help us to understand consciousness.  So I shall describe virtual machines in general as they offer an opportunity in information science to discuss consciousness without crashing into 'the hard problem' of links to a physical substrate. I shall explain what are functional virtual machines that are judged by their behaviour and then phenomenological virtual machines which are judged by their ability to create usable inner worlds.  I shall suggest that visual artists are special as they make explicit some aspects of their phenomenal worlds.  This type of communication is still an open question in computer science but one where interest in art may prove to be beneficial for both the artist and the scientist.


Born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, educated in Italy and South Africa, Igor Aleksander came to the UK in the late 50s. He first joined STC as a graduate engineer and then entered the academic world as Lecturer (at Queen Mary College, London, 1961), Reader in Electronics (University of Kent, 1968), Professor of Electronics (Brunel University, 1974), Professor of the Management of Information Technology (Imperial College, 1984), Head of Electrical Engineering and Gabor Professor of Neural Systems Engineering (Imperial College, 1988), Pro-Rector (External Relations) (Imperial College, 1997). He is now Emeritus Professor.


He has researched Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks and IT Management. His recent work lies in the area of Artificial Visual Awareness which arose from a collaboration with the California Institute of Technology. He has published over 200 papers in these fields and 13 books including "Impossible minds: my neurons my consciousness" published by Imperial College Press 1996 ' How to Build a Mind: Machines with Imagination' Weidenfeld and Nicolson (May 2000) and ‘The World in My Mind, My Mind in the World’ Academic Press (2005).


In the 1980s he was responsible for the design of the world's first neural pattern recognition system (the WISARD, commercialised by CRS, Wokingham), and in 1991 he and his students designed the MAGNUS neurocomputational system (now commercialised by NTS as Neural Representation Modeller). He has consulted for many computer manufacturers and IT providers. In 1988 he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering. In the year 2000 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Medal for Informatics by the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He is currently prominent in the emerging field of ‘Machine Models of Consciousness’.