June 25, 2022 to July 1, 2022
Europe/Paris timezone

LSC 2022 Public Lectures

Spoken or written human languages embody communication between individuals and computer languages between man and machine.  In a broader context, inter- and intra-species communication can span the senses.
The aim of this meeting is to discuss the current knowledge and future perspectives of research on the diverse mechanisms and roles of communication across biological systems and within social organizations.

Public Lectures (June 27 - 30) at the Institut Jacques Monod, Amphithéâtre Buffon
Here you can find information on how to get there.



  • The Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence
    Yann LeCun,
    Computational and Biological Learning, Courant Institute, New York University & Meta AI
  • A Natural History of Information
    Mark C. Mescher, Evolutionary Ecology, ETH Zurich

In this talk, I discuss the role of information in biology from an evolutionary perspective. I will define information as a biological concept and argue that Darwinian evolution is fundamentally an information-centric process. Building on that idea, I will discuss how key transitions in evolutionary history, including the repeated emergence of higher levels of biological organization, were accompanied by changes in the way organisms store and process information. I will further discuss the ways in which different informational systems operating within individual organisms (e.g., genomic, sensory, cognitive, and socio-cultural) interact to adapt organismal phenotypes to their environments on relevant time frames. I will also briefly explore how concepts from Shannon's information theory relate to the broader study of information in biology. Finally, I will discuss the profound implications of the emergence of cumulative culture as an open-ended evolutionary process in humans, including for epistemology (I.e., regarding the scope and content of knowledge that can be constructed by humans) and for the scientific process itself.

  • Chemical Signaling in Ecology
    Consuelo De Moraes, Biocommunication, ETH Zurich

Information plays a central role in ecology, mediating both mutualistic interactions, such as those between plants and pollinators, and antagonistic interactions, such as those between parasites and their hosts. In this talk, I describe highlights from research in the Biocommunication group at ETH Zürich, which focuses primarily on the role of chemical cues and signals in interactions among plants, insects, and microbes. A recurring theme in this work is the discovery of unexpected sophistication in the sensory abilities of plants. Among other topics, I will describe the role of olfactory cues in host location by parasitic plants, the priming of plant defenses by environmental cues—including insect pheromones—that predict the threat of herbivore attack, and chemical communication between plants. Finally, I will discuss recent findings showing that some plants accelerate flowering in response to leaf damage inflicted by bumblebees, a mechanism that might help to maintain temporal synchrony between plants and pollinators.

  • Language Origins: an Animal Communication Perspective
    Simon Townsend, Comparative Communication and Cognition, University of Zurich

Human language is arguably the most complex communication system currently known, however, the origins of language remain surprisingly elusive. Across these two talks, I will revisit this conundrum and illustrate how studying animal communication can provide a much-needed window into the evolutionary emergence of language. I will specifically focus on what comparative data exists for semantics and syntax in animal vocal systems (i.e. the ability to label objects and events in the external environment with signals and the ability to combine meaningful signals together into larger structures). Data from primates and non-primate birds and mammals suggest these core properties of language are not unique to humans but exist, in more simple forms, in animals. I will discuss the evolutionary implications of these findings for reconstructing the evolution of semantics, syntax, and language more generally.


Yann LeCun, Computational and Biological Learning, Courant Institute, New York University & Meta AI

Yann’s current interests include AI, machine learning, computer perception, robotics, and computational neuroscience.  He is best known for his contributions to deep learning and neural networks, particularly the convolutional network model which is very widely used in computer vision and speech recognition applications.  He has published over 190 papers on these topics as well as on handwriting recognition, image compression, and dedicated hardware for AI.


Mark C. Mescher, Evolutionary Ecology, ETH Zurich

Mark has a background in behavioral ecology and social evolution. His empirical work explores the role of sensory cues and signals in mediating ecological interactions within and between species, as well as the ways in which sensory information complements genetic information in adapting organisms to their environments. The broader conceptual focus of this work is on the central role of information at the interface of evolution and ecology.


Consuelo De Moraes, Biocommunication, ETH Zurich

Consuelo and her group explore the role of information in shaping ecological interactions between species. Their work focuses primarily on chemical communication, including the role of olfactory cues and signals in mediating interactions between plants and insects, as well as disease transmission by insect vectors. The overarching goal of this work is to address important questions in basic ecology that also have applied relevance for sustainable agriculture, ecological conservation, and human health.


Simon Townsend, Comparative Communication and Cognition, University of Zurich

Simon and his group are interested in the evolutionary origins of human language. By taking a broadly comparative approach, investigating the vocal communication and cognition skills of a disparate array of primate and non-primate animals (vervet monkeys, chimpanzees, wolves, pied babblers, Chestnut-crowned babblers, magpies), they aim to unpack the similarities and differences between animal and human communication. This approach will help elucidate the phylogenetic age of the human language faculty and the selective conditions that promoted its emergence.



  • Yves Barral (ETH Zürich)
  • Mikhail Gromov (IHES & New York University)
  • Robert Penner (IHES & University of California Los Angeles)
  • Vasily Pestun (IHES & IBM Research)
  • Nicolas Minc (IJM, Université Paris Cité/CNRS)

CONTACT: Grazia Gonella – lsc@biol.ethz.ch