CALL FOR PROPOSALS: Awareness Inside

Deadline: 27-10-2021

(Source: European Commission)

Programme Horizon Europe Framework Programme (HORIZON)

Call EIC Pathfinder Challenges 2021 (HORIZON-EIC-2021-PATHFINDERCHALLENGES-01)

Type of action HORIZON-EIC HORIZON EIC Grants

Type of MGA HORIZON Action Grant Budget-Based [HORIZON-AG]

Deadline model single-stage

Opening date 15 June 2021

Deadline date 27 October 2021 17:00:00 Brussels time


Awareness and consciousness have been high on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) research agenda for decades. Progress has been difficult because it has been hard to agree on exactly what it means to be aware. Most researches would agree though that we do not have any truly aware artificial system yet, that awareness is much more than a sensorial sophistication and that it is much more than any Artificial Intelligence as we know it. But, what is it then that a user would expect from a service or device that has ‘awareness inside’?

Most scientific and philosophical accounts of awareness are based on a human subject perspective and at an individual level. They address the question of what it means for an individual human subject to be aware of, e.g., the environment, time or oneself and how one can assess awareness in this context. The problem is relevant, certainly, since many clinical and cognitive conditions can be linked to awareness issues. The concept is also relevant to emerging technologies as it has been argued, for instance, that humans will not accept robots (or chatbots, or decision support systems) as trustable partners if they cannot ascribe some form of awareness and true understanding to them.

The individual human-centric concept of consciousness hinders the application of awareness as a measurable feature of any sufficiently complex system. The study of awareness in other species and artefacts, or even more elusive concepts such as social awareness require a new perspective applicable to many systems. It can then also serve to attack the inter-subjective state and experience of awareness (i.e., what is it like to interact with an aware robot that, most probably, does not have the same kind of awareness than the human?), or to include non-conscious objects into the sphere of awareness (e.g., to become aware of the time without looking at the watch).

For technologies, awareness principles would allow a step-up in engineering complex systems, making them more resilient, self-developing and human-centric. Awareness is a prerequisite for a real and contextualised understanding of a problem or situation and to adapt ones actions (and their consequences) to the specific circumstances. Ultimately, awareness serves the coherent and purposeful behaviour, learning, adaptation and self-development of intelligent systems over longer periods of time.

Specific conditions for this challenge

Proposals are expected to address each of the following three expected outcomes:

1. New concepts of awareness that are applicable to systems other than human, including technological ones, with implications of how it can be recognised or measured. It will require to elucidate the relationship between, among others, complexity and awareness, information structure and representation, the environment and its perception, distributed versus centralized awareness, and time awareness. This will lead to better approaches for defining aspects of awareness over different temporal, spatial, biological, technological and social scales.

2. Demonstrate and validate the role and added-value of such an awareness in an aware technology, class of artefacts or services for which the awareness features lead to a truly different quality in terms of, e.g., performance, flexibility, reliability or user-experience. The specific expected outcome is a proof of principle of technologies far beyond the current state of the art or a laboratory-validated prototype enabling evaluation of the proposed technology’s awareness features, relying where relevant on neuroscientific and psychological methods, and possibly in a range of application areas. As examples, projects could investigate the implications of ’awareness inside’ for safer robots or self-driving cars, for better resilience of critical infrastructure, in artefacts that compensate for consciousness disorders, in decision support (e.g. for surgery, economics or epidemiology), or for chatbot-based conversation, language learning or translation.

3. Define an integrative approach for awareness engineering, its technological toolbox, the needs and implications and its limits, including ethical and regulatory requirements. On this aspect specifically, the projects that will be funded under this challenge are expected to collaborate and contribute to the wider ethical, societal and regulatory debate since, ultimately, new awareness concepts may lead to a redefinition of how we look at the relation between humans, other species and smart technologies. The gender dimension in research content should be taken into account, where relevant, to maximise user experience.

This Challenge is only open to proposals for collaborative projects with at least 3 partners following the standard eligibility conditions. Proposals are required to comply with the Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence principles

For more details, see the EIC Work Programme 2021 and the relevant Challenge Guide.

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