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Humanist Archives: May 7, 2019, 6:16 a.m. Humanist 33.1 - cognitive prosthetics, expert systems

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 1.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-05-06 16:48:24+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: cognitive prosthetics, expert systems

"It has now become commonplace", Edwin Hutchins writes in Cognition in
the Wild (1995), to speak of technology, especially information
processing technology, as an amplifier of cognitive abilities." (p. 153)
We do this, no? But consider what he goes on to say, using as his
example (omitted here) the complex computational tasks undertaken in
navigation of a large ship:

> Cole and Griffin (1980) show,* however, that the appearance of
> amplification is an artifact of a commonly assumed but mistaken
> perspective. When we concentrate on the product of the cognitive
> work, cultural technologies, from writing and mathematics to the
> tools we have considered here, appear to amplify the cognitive powers
> of their users. Using these tools, people can certainly do things
> they could not do without them. When we shift our focus to the
> process by which cognitive work is accomplished, however, we see
> something quite different. Every complex cognitive performance
> requires the application of a number of component cognitive
> abilities... Computing speed from distance and time with a calculator
> involves many component subtasks: remembering a symbolic expression,
> transforming the expression, determining which quantities correspond
> to which terms of the expression, mapping the expression to
> operations on the calculator, finding particular calculator keys,
> pressing the keys, and so on. The application of these abilities must
> be “organized” in the sense that the work done by each component
> ability must be coordinated with that done by others. If we now
> consider doing the same task with [a different device or
> technique],we see that adifferent set of abilities is enlisted in the
> task. None of the component cognitive abilities has been amplified by
> the use of any of the tools. Rather, each tool presents the task to
> the user as a different sort of cognitive problem requiring a
> different set of cognitive abilities or a different organization of
> the same set of abilities... The specific implementations of the
> tasks determine the kinds of cognitive processes that the performer
> will have to organize in order to do the task.The implementations
> are, in turn, part of a cultural process that tends to collect
> representations that permit tasks to be performed by means of simple
> cognitive processes.
> Perhaps this should also give us a new meaning for the term “expert
> system.” Clearly, a good deal of the expertise in the system is in
> the artifacts (both the external implements and the internal
> strategies) — not in the sense that the artifacts are themselves
> intelligent or expert agents, or because the act of getting into
> coordination with the artifacts constitutes an expert performance by
> the person; rather, the system of
> person-in-interaction-with-technology exhibits expertise.

This seems to me an excellent formulation of how we might think of
an artificial intelligence -- and, by implication, intelligence of 
any sort.



*Michael Cole and Peg Griffin, "Cultural Amplifiers Reconsidered". In
The Social Foundations of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of
Jerome S. Bruner. 343-64. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1980.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist

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