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Daniel Dennett on the Evolution of the Mind, Consciousness and AI

Daniel Dennett and our panel discuss the evolution of the human mind.

How come there are conscious minds?
How do language and culture evolve?
Should we still teach children things which computers can do better?
Will our smart electronic devices rob us of our intelligence?
Will human intelligence and AI co-evolve?

These are some of the intriguing questions that Daniel Dennett, one of the most influential and provocative thinkers of modern times, sought to answer when he came to the Intelligence Squared stage to discuss his lifetime’s work on the evolution of the human mind. Dennett’s cross-disciplinary approach – encompassing neuroscience, evolutionary biology and artificial intelligence – has been widely acclaimed and helped redefine the role of the philosopher for our age.

In this exclusive event, Dennett explored the major themes of his forthcoming book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, including how our minds came into existence, how our brains work, and how ideas are culturally transmitted. He exploded many of the notions we take for granted about how we think – such as the idea of the individual – offering instead a bold new explanation of human consciousness which views it largely as a product of cultural evolution built up over millennia.

Sharing the stage with Dennett were key figures from the next generation of scientists, AI experts, philosophers and artists, with whom he will engage on what it means to be human.



Daniel Glaser

One of the country’s most popular neuroscientists

One of the country’s most popular neuroscientists. He has presented and contributed to numerous BBC television and radio programmes, and was the first scientist to serve as a judge for the Man Booker Prize. In 2002, he was made the first Scientist in Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Formerly the Head of Engaging Science at Wellcome Trust, he is now Director of the Science Gallery at King’s College London.

Daniel Dennett

Philsopher, writer and cognitive scientist

Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, who has published numerous books, including Breaking the Spell (2007), Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1996) and Consciousness Explained (1991). Along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, he is known as one of the ‘Four Horsemen of New Atheism’. In 2012 he was awarded the Erasmus Prize, recognising his ability to translate the cultural significance of science and technology to a broad audience.

Blaise Agüera y Arcas

Head of machine learning at Google

Head of machine learning at Google in Seattle. One of his current interests is how machine learning can give us insights into nature and human behaviour.

Random International

Experimental artist collective

Experimental artist collective, best known for their Rain Room installation, whose work explores the relationship between humankind and technology. They have had blockbuster exhibitions at MOMA, LACMA and the Barbican.

Nicholas Shea

Interdisciplinary philosopher of the mind

Interdisciplinary philosopher of mind and cognitive science with a particular interest in mental representation and information processing in the brain. He is currently leading a project within the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Science in Culture theme, working with psychology and neuroscience to understand the mind. He is a Professor of Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Tara Swart


Neuroscientist, award-winning author and a medical doctor. She is founder of The Unlimited Mind and Faculty at MIT Sloan. She also works as a leadership coach, using her 20 years’ research into how our brains work, to help people deal with the stress of constant change and rapid technological advancement.