Project leader: Ali Boyle
Duration: September 2022 - September 2026
We remember many events from our past, from the momentous to the mundane. Most of us find we can ‘mentally replay’ these past events in our mind’s eye. This kind of memory is called episodic memory.
Episodic memory is absolutely central to our mental lives. Its loss, as in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, can be devastating. But episodic memory research is a relatively young field, home to several outstanding puzzles. The Episodic Memory: Uniquely Human? project, a four-year UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship led by Dr Ali Boyle, addresses two of them.
First, what is episodic memory’s function? That is, what precisely does it do, and why is it useful for us to have episodic memory, in addition to memory for facts and skills?
Second, how widespread is episodic memory? Do other animals remember past events, or is this a uniquely human cognitive achievement?
Perhaps surprisingly, these are both subjects of intense debate in the science and philosophy of memory. And although they’re often tackled separately, they’re importantly connected: we can’t detect episodic memory in animals without an account of its function, and an account of episodic memory’s function ought to be informed by both its human and non-human manifestations. This project takes an integrative approach, aiming to advance our understanding of both issues by bringing them together with a third important strand of episodic memory research: artificial implementations of episodic memory, which have led to significant recent developments in AI.
Drawing on evidence and tools from philosophy, comparative cognitive science and AI, the project will develop a new account of episodic memory's function, using this to advance debates about episodic memory in animals and suggest new applications for episodic memory in AI. It will be the first project to bring these three disciplines together to inform accounts of episodic memory’s function, and to give significant philosophical attention to episodic memory in AI.
As part of the research, the project team – which will include two Post-Doctoral and one PhD Researcher – will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Cambridge to implement tests of episodic memory in a 3D simulated environment: the Animal-AI Testbed. The results will shed important light on episodic memory’s role in cognition and the methods for detecting it in animals.
Andrea Blomkvist is a postdoctoral researcher on the project 'Episodic Memory: Uniquely Human?', where she will primarily be working on episodic memory in AI. She earned her PhD from the University of Sheffield in 2021 under the supervision of Luca Barlassina and Dominic Gregory. Subsequently, she was a Teaching Associate in Philosophy of Psychology & Cognitive Science at the University of Sheffield, before taking up a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Philosophical Psychology (University of Antwerp). Her main research interests lie in the philosophy of cognitive science, and include memory, imagination and mental imagery, comparative cognition, and issues about explanation and representation.
Personal Website: https://www.andreablomkvist.com/
Rebecca Dreier is a PhD student on the project titled "Episodic Memory: Uniquely Human?“. During her studies at the University of Tübingen, she delved into the nature of episodic memory, specifically in her BA thesis, and examined in her MA thesis whether remembering alone is sufficient to claim knowledge about the past.
Her primary research interest centres on the philosophy of mind, including animal cognition. Additionally she is interested in (social) epistemology, and the ethics of both animal and artificial intelligence.
In her doctoral research, Rebecca aims to further explore the functions of episodic memory. Her studies seek to provide insights into which animals might possess episodic memory and why. Additionally, she's interested in the methodologies used to investigate potential episodic memory in nonhuman species.
I research Learning and Memory in Health and Disease, with a particular emphasis on sub-clinical learning and memory deficits and how to measure and model them.
As part of this I research memory deficits associated with particular disorders (such as Obesity and Long Covid) as well as pursuing methods to adequately measure and model subclinical learning and memory deficits. These include the development of translational assessments that can be used across animal models, human participants and computational simulations/models.
Part of my current research also focuses on the measurement of cognitive abilities within AI models, and exploration of how the capabilities of these models can be assessed and understood.
Personal Website: Dr Lucy Cheke
Nicola S. Clayton
Nicola Clayton is Professor of Comparative Cognition in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Clare College and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Her expertise lies in the contemporary study of comparative cognition, integrating a knowledge of both biology and psychology to introduce new ways of thinking about the evolution and development of intelligence in non-verbal animals and pre-verbal children.
Personal Website: Professor Nicola S. Clayton