Hildebrandt keynoting on ‘Written and coded ‘speech acts’. Never the twain shall meet?’ (27 October 2021)

The 6th International Conference on the History and Philosophy of Computing organised by the Turing Center of the ETH Zurich brings together an interdisciplinary community to critically address the entanglement of computing practices with the main cultural challenges our epoch is facing. The global and collective nature of such problems (e.g. climate change, global pandemics, systemic inequalities, resurgence of totalitarianism, to name a few) requires a comprehensive perspective on computing, where social and cultural aspects occupy a central position. For these reasons, thinking about machines asks today for an interdisciplinary approach, where art is as necessary as engineering, anthropological insights as important as psychological models, and the critical perspectives of history and philosophy as decisive as the axioms and theorems of theoretical computer science.

Mireille Hildebrandt will deliver the opening keynote Written and coded ‘speech acts’. Never the twain shall meet? on 27 October 2021.


In this keynote I will inquire into the difference that makes a difference (Bateson) between text- and code-driven ‘speech acts’. I will raise some pivotal questions regarding the relationship between counting, speech, calculation and qualification, while comparing the performative effect of written speech acts with the real world effects of computing systems. My argument is part of a call for legal philosophers to pay keen attention to computer science and philosophy of technology, and a call to computer scientists to pay keen attention to philosophy of language, more notably speech act theory and interpretation theory. The focus will be on how the use and the affordances of natural language inform the fine line between ambiguity and shifts in meaning on the one hand and continuity and closure on the other. This will allow me to highlight where written and coded ’speech acts’ differ and how their use may be complementary in a way that reinforces rather than diminishes human agency.

For more information about the conference, click here.

For slides, click here.