ISTC History

History of ISTC

The Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies was created in 2001, when  the Institute of Psychology (IP) was consistently modifying its research activity. To IP, the main precursor of ISTC, were added the Institute of Phonetics and Dialectology (IFD) of Padua and groups from other Institutes (Institute of Biomedical Technologies of Rome, LADSEB of Padua and the Solid State Electronics group in Rome).

IP commitment ro research in computer science had grown increasingly relevant under the direction of Domenico Parisi (1987-1995) and Sebastiano Bagnara (1996-1998): from Computational Methodologies in the Study of Language to New Technologies; from Artificial Intelligence and Computer Simulation to Neural Networks, Artificial Life and Robotics.

That interdisciplinary orientation, which allowed IP to play a pioneering role in a number of research fields later incorporated in academic research and teaching, was pursued by the following directors, Sebastiano Bagnara (1996-1998) and Virginia Volterra (1998-2002).

At the end of the 90s, IP research areas spanned the study of Cognitive Social Systems and Multi-Agent Systems, the Quality of Child Care both in educational settings and within the family; Genetic Counselling, the study of Lexical and Syntactic Processes; the study of Artificial Neural Systems in an Artificial Life perspective, linguistic development in typical and atypical conditions; the interactions between New Technologies and Human Cognitive Capacities and Processes, and describing and evaluating the cognitive capacities and their development in non-human primate species.

The label of Psychology appeared then too narrow for such a wide array of topics being investigated. As a consequence, in 2001, the Institute changed its name to Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies.

Virginia Volterra, the first Director of ISTC, nicely steered the transition by creating a friendly, productive, and pragmatic environment. Between 2001 and 2003 groups from other Institutes (Institute of Biomedical Technologies of Rome, LADSEB of Padua and the Solid State Electronics group in Rome) became part of ISTC.

The new Director, Cristiano Castelfranchi (2002-2011), emphasized the interdisciplinary approach of the Institute, favoring research in new technologies, and abridging cognitive and neuroscience research.

Rino (Rosario) Falcone (2011-2019) continued Cristiano's action in favoring more innovative research and entrusting more responsibilities to many young ISTC researchers. Falcone reorganized ISTC research activities along three macro areas:

- Cognitive Models and Technologies (cognitive and socio-cognitive models and technologies in robotics, artificial intelligence, semantic technologies, social simulation);
- Psychology of Cognitive Processes (cognitive processes in scientific areas related to the psychology of development, of communication and social interactions);
- Biological Models of Cognition (study, and in some cases computational simulation, of the Biological Models that refer to cognition and also includes problems of non-invasive Translational Neuroscience, analysis of neurophysiological mechanisms as well as specific techniques of investigation of neurodegenerative diseases).

Since 2019, Aldo Gangemi is the Director of ISTC. He pursues the rich heritage  characterising the history of ISTC, at the same time fostering integration among its laboratories, and facilitating their reach for excellence. Far from being disjoint areas, the (neuro-)cognitive, social and computational research featured at ISTC is being integrated in the current techno-social systems, overcoming the infamous two cultures gap. ISTC is an ideal environment for research and technology transfer in a complex, quickly changing world.

In these days, a large palette of collaborations has been established across the world, and a recent infusion of many youthful talents in the institute let us hope for the best.

ISTC objectives aim at the analysis, representation, automatic reasoning, simulation and interpretation of cognitive and social processes in humans and non-human primates, spanning the physiological, phenomenological, and computational worlds.

The variety of subjects, technologies and targets (spanning organisms, robots, social systems, data, abstract concepts) may sound intimidating. On the contrary, this variety is a rare, powerful means to make sense of our world.


ISTC has a rich history, which deserves being told ...

History of the Institute of Psychology

The Institute of Psychology was created in 1950, resulting from the transformation of a previously existing Centre for the Study of Psychology, which was mainly dedicated to psychological testing for the Army. Most of the studies carried out in the Institute concerned experimental psychology, psychophysiology, and intelligence and personality testing and only at the end of the 60s basic research in psychophysiology, ergonomics, and linguistics was undertaken.

Over the 70s, under the direction of Raffaello Misiti (1969-1986) the research staff was doubled, applied activities (such as testing for the Army) were dismissed, basic research initiatives were enhanced – starting with linguistics - and new research directions were opened, such as cognitive and language development and comparative psychology. In the same years, the Institute carried out innovative studies in many areas of social relevance, such as education, treatment of psychiatric disorders, man-environment relationships, work condition and information technology. The Institute played an important role in the cultural debate on psychology and its new trends, contributing to the diffusion and discussion of cognitivism and Soviet sociocultural psychology in Italy.

The interdisciplinary orientation of the Institute was officially sanctioned by posing it under three CNR Consulting Committees: "Historical sciences, philosophy and philology" and "Economics, sociology and statistics”, in addition to the existing Committee of "Biological and medical sciences". For many years, the Institute was the only CNR Institution with such a status.

While the Institute continued to produce significant research in socially relevant fields, in particular in early childhood education and health psychology, during the following two decades more specific interests of different research groups emerged. In 1984 a colony of tufted capuchin monkeys (at that time Cebus apella, now Sapajus sp, ), living in social groups, was hosted by the comparative psychology group at the Zoo of Rome (now Bioparco); linguistics evolved toward many different lines : early stages of language acquisition, neuropsychology of language, with the study of normal and pathological development, the study of the sign languages of the deaf (since 1988 a unit of the Institute is hosted at the Institute for the Deafmute - now ISSR - in Via Nomentana); studies in environmental psychology focused on the built environment. Research in information technology, in particular under the direction of Domenico Parisi (1987-1995) became increasingly relevant: from the computational methodologies in the study of language to the new technologies; from artificial intelligence and computer simulation to neural networks, artificial life, and robotics.

The interdisciplinary orientation, which allowed the Institute to play a pioneering role in a number of research fields that have later been incorporated also in academic research and teaching, was pursued also by the next directors, Sebastiano Bagnara (1995-1998) and Virginia Volterra (1998-2002). In addition, under the direction of Virginia Volterra the role of the Institute as a training institution was strengthened, and an increasing number of doctoral students had the opportunity to conduct their thesis tutored by IP researchers.

History of Magnetoencelography Unit in Fatebenefratelli Hospital - Rome

The Magnetoencephalograpy (MEG) Unit is the result of some researchers branching from the Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies (Istituto di Fotonica e Nanotecnologie - IFN), another CNR institute derived from the merging of other CNR institutes.

It is located in Fatebenefratelli Hospital and its focus is on neurophysiological characterization of the central nervous system activity, focusing on sensory-motor cortex in normal and pathological conditions.

History of the Institute of Phonetics and Dialectology

The Paduan Section of the ISTC was established when the Psychology Institute of Rome and the Phonetic and Dialectology Institute of Padua (IFD - Istituto di Fonetica e Dialettologia) merged together. This took place on 5th February 2002. The IFD became active on 1st June 1998, through a merge between two pre-existing Centers, the Center for the Study of Phonetic Research (CSRF) and the Center for the Study of Italian Dialectology "Oronzo Parlangeli" (CSDI). Both of these were founded by Carlo Tagliavini, the well-known professor of Glottology at University of Padua, in early seventies and were based on an agreement between the University of Padua and CNR at the Institute of Glottology and Phonetics.

The CSRF was directed by Prof. Lucio Croatto from 1971 to 1991 and by Prof. Alberto Zamboni from 1991 to 1998. It was characterized by the experimental setting up of phonetic research (which involved the establishment of a Laboratory that, because of the abundance and regular updating of the instrumentation, became a point of reference for all researchers in this sector for Italy) and by an interdisciplinary approach totally innovative for Italy that lead to the establishment of a team made up of linguists, acoustic physicists, computer engineers, speech therapists and psychologists, thanks to which the CSRF gained national and international publicity.

The CSDI, directed by Prof. Manlio Cortelazzo from 1973 to 1987, by Prof. Giovan Battista Pellegrini from 1987 to 1992 and by Prof. Alberto Mioni from 1992 to 1998, became the center of a series of research distributed all over the territory but organized in a unitary way with the scope of putting together a data base of Italian dialects at all levels: lexical, syntactical, phonological and phonetic, thanks to which elaboration on very important analyses have been carried out. Furthermore, the publication of a series of monographs regarding dialects and varieties of Italian of great cultural importance, which can also be utilized in interlinguistic research and educational centers, was entrusted to the CSDI.

These lines of research were confirmed at the time of the merging in 1998 of CSDI and CSRF into IFD, directed by Prof. Alberto Zamboni from 1998 to 2002, which then became a highly specialized Institute in the field of Speech Communication and in the study of language variation.

The subsequent confluence into ISTC was decided on the basis of the firm belief that research into theoretical, experimental and technological speech would associate perfectly with the cognitive and psycholinguistic research on various aspects of communication carried out by researchers of the IP (cognitive development and learning in children, artificial intelligence, neural network).

History of LADSEB (Institute for Systems Science and Biomedical Engineering)

This institute (now incorporated in ISIB-CNR) was founded in 1973 and included people working on biomedical models, medical informatics, systems science, robotics, and knowledge representation. In the latter field, a research line on "Conceptual Modeling and Knowledge Engineering" has been active since 1991.

Under the leadership of Nicola Guarino, this group gained an international reputation for its interdisciplinary approach focused on the role of philosophical ontology in the foundations of knowledge representation, information integration and retrieval, natural language processing, multi-agent systems, and information systems design.

Then, in 2003, the "Conceptual Modeling and Knowledge Engineering" group joined ISTC, moving to Trento and merging with a similar group at former ITBM-CNR to form the Laboratory for Applied Ontology.