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Archive for the ‘Cognitive Science’ Category

extendedmind
There’s a great new article on the extended mind, titled, “How Google Is Making Us Smarter“, in Discover Magazine’s latest issue. You should definitely check it out.

The theory of the extended mind suggests that the mind is not contained exclusively ‘inside’ the skull, but rather that it extends into the external environment. While our mind can use the structure of our brain to store information, it also uses other structures in the outside world for cognitive functioning too. The classic example for this is the use of notepads or chalkboards as extended memory. To aid in the memorization of things, like classroom lessons or a friend’s phone number, we often utilize records stored on chalkboards or cell phones to remind us later of the information. According to this theory, the mind is intricately connected to its external environment through this kind of cognitive scaffolding. In fact, this externalism is necessary for real time, efficient action in the world. It bypasses the problem of an information bottleneck that would hamper real time cognitive processing if we had to store all of the relevant information about the world internally.

The article in Discover debunks the old myth that increasingly useful technology is making us dumb and lazy because it lessens the burden on our own brains. Rather, technology like the internet is making us smarter, because it is increasing our capacity to network with the extended world.

The theory of the extended mind was first proposed by philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers in a short essay aptly titled “The Extended Mind” in 1998.

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Andy Clark

Andy Clark


Andy Clark is currently a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he is also Chair in Logic and Metaphysics. Previously, he was director of the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University in Bloomington.

His extensive publications on embodied cognition, connectionist neural networking and cognitive science have made him one of the key figureheads in the field, which he has helped to popularize and make accessible. This includes the keystone book, Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again, as well as Natural Born Cyborgs and Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Cognition and Cognitive Extension. He has also written a fabulous introduction to the philosophy of cognitive science, titled Mindware. You can access a list of his publications, and you can view many of them too, from his page at the University of Edinburgh.

Clark might be classified as an anti-representationalist, believing that mental representations are not detailed internal constructions of the world, as in a Cartesian theater, but rather that cognition is constructed by the world. That is, the world acts as cognitive scaffolding, and cognition is constructed through an intricate environmental interplay between mind, body and world. Clark’s position is typically referred to as the theory of the extended mind.

He also anticipates the development of cognitive prosthetics, electronic enhancements to aid the integration of the human mind with technology.

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Rafael E. Núñez

Rafael E. Núñez


Rafael E. Núñez is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego. He is, of course, a major proponent of embodied cognition and his monumental work, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, written with George Lakoff, has revolutionized the understanding of mathematical cognition.

The publication essentially debunks the romantic Platonic myth that mathematics is transcendent, that mathematical knowledge is an ideal view of ultimate reality, and that reasoning is logical and that logic is mathematical.

His vast interdisciplinary interests also include cognitive linguistics, neuroimaging, conceptual metaphor, the empirical study of spontaneous gestures, as well as field research investigating spatial construals of time in the Aymara culture of the Andes.

He is also the director of the Embodied Cognition Laboratory at UCSD.

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vitruvian
Michael L. Anderson has put together a nice field guide to embodied cognition (PDF) which you can access online by following that link.

Centrally, the article outlines that the field of embodied cognition is:
(1) Starkly opposed to Cartesianism.
(2) Denies the conceptual divide between humans and animals, reconnecting our conception of humanity to an evolutionary continuum.
(3) Against cognitivism, or the view that cognition is rule-based manipulation of symbols.
(4) In favor of the view that intelligence emerges from situated, active integration within an external environment and context, rather than primarily within the internal confines of an individual brain or enclosed entity.
(5) On the cutting edge of artificial intelligence design, as well as showing immense potential in enhancing human intelligence through computation.

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sarahconnor_main
A blog over at Discover Magazine pointed me toward the latest episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which alludes to the importance of embodiment in the development of Artificial Intelligence. During the episode, which was first aired on December 15th, an Artificial Intelligence researcher poignantly notes that “…tactile experience is integral to A.I. development.”

Indeed! Classically, researchers in A.I. have attempted to build the mind first– a disembodied approach which implies that real time interaction with the world is not a necessary condition for intelligence. Rather, it turns out that the most successful A.I. programs have flipped this approach upside down. By starting with the body and a perceptual system instead, intelligence develops as that system learns to cope with its environment.

It’s good to see popular science fiction taking note of the latest developments in embodied cognition, and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the future with the series. It may have just won at least one newly intrigued viewer.

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Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks


Rodney Brooks is a Professor of Robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he also the directs the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Unquestionably, Brooks is the figurehead and principle leader of the embodied robotics movement.

Since his work was first published in 1986, Brooks has brought forth a new era in artificial intelligence. Instead of focusing on symbolic processing, which classical artificial intelligence was modeled on, he prioritized robotic architectures which were biologically-inspired. That meant focusing on sensorimotor and perceptual abilities– the capabilities an intelligent agent needs to interact successfully with the real world.

Brooks was also the first to point out that programming and embodying sensorimotor intelligence was far more challenging than programming basic symbolic reasoning skills. Thus, he argued that complex intelligence must ultimately be built out of those sensorimotor capabilities rather than from symbolic reasoning systems.

His classic article on this subject is titled Elephants Don’t Play Chess. His canonical books include the insightful Flesh and Machines, as well as Cambrian Intelligence. He is also a great popularizer of the subject, and has been featured in motion picture documentaries such as in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.

Some of his new work is in developing low cost robots that will empower workers and evolve the world’s labor markets.

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robot
In this recent NY Times article, we get asked: “What happened to all of those early promises of having cogent robots, fully or partially integrated into our society, helping us out with all of our daily tasks?” Where are our robot maids, like in The Jetsons? Robots to dramatically and obnoxiously warn us of impending dangers, such as in Lost in Space? Robot pets? It’s already just about 8 years after Stanley Kubrick’s ominous prediction of 2001, so where are they?

‘Artificial intelligence’ has become a radical misnomer with the focus more on the ‘artificial’ rather than the ‘intelligence’. Cutting edge roboticists at the MIT robotics laboratory have an astute answer. Quite simply, early models of artificial intelligence took it for granted what seem to us to be simple bodily tasks, motor functions and perceptive abilities. It turns out that those are actually the most difficult kinds of abilities to program.

If cognition is fundamentally embodied, then it’s no surprise that intelligence hasn’t emerged in robots. Before you can have real, versatile intelligence, you have to master simple motor tasks in non-structured environments. It turns out our ability to do things like reach and grab for objects or walk through a changing environment has more to do with higher cognition than anything else. And so far, we can’t even put together a robot with the same motor capabilities of a newborn; or a cockroach, for that matter.

On the bright side, there’s also no foreseeable danger of assassin terminators taking over the world, either.

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