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While computers can calculate or recognise faces, they are not aware of themselves (yet?). Consciousness is in the essence of human beings; its nature, however, appears to lack a reliable explanation. Prof. Axel Cleeremans is developing a new theory, the Radical Plasticity Thesis, maintaining that consciousness is a long-lasting property of our brain rather than just a static feature. In order to test it, he is taking a multidisciplinary approach including psychological studies and advanced brain imaging.
The Theory of Mind - the ability to understand that others may have thoughts, beliefs, desires, and intentions different from ours - develops in early childhood and is considered as a key process to explain our social interactions. How do children acquire this ability? What are the cognitive and brain mechanisms that allow human beings to learn from others, to predict their behaviour and to communicate with them? These are some of the questions Dr Agnes Melinda Kovacs addresses, thanks to an ERC grant, in her laboratory in Budapest.
Living creatures relate to their surroundings in all kinds of ways. One of these is by eating from them and excreting into them. But what is eating? Incorporating other creatures or absorbing nutrients? A need of individual bodies or a pleasure that table companions share? The ERC project EATINGBODIES has explored such questions by studying various forms of eating.
Different responses might be given to global challenges. For example, how should the vanishing of a glacier be tackled? Prof. Thomas Eriksen aims to understand the economic, environmental and cultural transitions the world is going through and the responses created by local communities in order to offer valuable advice to our policymakers and leaders.
Slavery represents a dark and unclosed page in the history of mankind. Even if legally abolished by all countries of the world, its legacies shape the present in a plurality of ways and often overlap with the phenomena that scholars, activists and policy-makers target as new slaveries. Which are the consequences of slavery after its legal death? Should new forms of labor exploitation and human bondage also be read in this key? Or are they the result of recent economic, political and social transformations?
A ground-breaking anthropological discovery took place in East Africa, where ERC Advanced grantee Dr Marta Mirazón Lahr and her team have been studying human origins. At the excavation site in Nataruk in northern Kenya, they have stumbled upon a real archaeological rarity – the earliest historical evidence of warfare.
Since its establishment in 1959, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. Verdicts are rendered on State parties that, having ratified the European Convention of Human Rights, have nonetheless violated the civil and political rights set in this international Treaty and its protocols. Through her ERC research, Prof. Eva Brems questioned the accountability and reliability of this supranational court. Is it fit for purpose?
During the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC, the European continent experienced important social and cultural transformations, with the introduction of metal and the emergence of new languages and identities. Recent theories suggest that these major changes were triggered by people’s migrations and cultural transmissions, challenging the perception of European prehistory as a series of unrelated local developments.
Is a precise answer always better than a slightly less detailed one? Not necessarily. Some problems could take forever to compute and tie up vast IT capacity. Where solutions are needed urgently, e.g. in business or manufacturing, near-enough can be more than enough. ERC-funded research has produced a library of fast, powerful approximation algorithms.
In just a couple of years, Africa has gone from possessing a total bandwidth availability comparable to that of Norway to having almost one hundred million internet users and seven hundred million mobile users. Could this growth in access to information and communication technologies (ICT) represent an opportunity for economic development? Many have described this moment of transition as "Africa's century", ERC grantee and Oxford scholar Prof Mark Graham, a leading authority on the topic of technology and development, aims to understand this "digital revolution".