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Posts Tagged ‘Cognitive Science’

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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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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iCub

iCub


The RobotCub Project is fascinating, ongoing research which is studying cognition through the construction of a robot, called the iCub, which is a humanoid with roughly the appearance and size of a 3.5 year old child– which is currently about the same age as the project. This is the kind of research that is revolutionizing our knowledge of embodied, enactive cognition.

Even better, the project is entirely open source and public. At their website at robotcub.org, you can find source files, publications, pictures, videos and updates on the project. You can view the iCub software files. They’re always open to new international collaborators and partners.

The project also runs a yearly “summer school” where students have the chance to experiment with the iCub, and which helps to encourage embodied artificial cognitive systems research.

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Over at Edge, a video interview and written transcript have been posted of Alva Noë discussing many of the philosophical problems concerning consciousness, and how a paradigm shift toward an embodied understanding of mind might help to resolve those problems.

Within it, Noë notes that most modern cognitivist research about consciousness and experience within neuroscience and classical cognitive science are actually just recycling many of the old problems of consciousness within a new framework. In other words, although the framework has changed, the same ways of understanding– the same paradigms– are still in place.

He uses the metaphor of a dancer to refocus instead on the importance of movement, action and the environment in the making of consciousness. He also ponders the mysteries of pictorial paradoxes about reference and meaning, and again discusses how an embodied approach offers answers.

Alva Noë is a professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Human-Robot Interaction

Human-Robot Interaction


A fascinating symposium will be held April 8-9 in 2009 about human-robot interaction (HRI) in Edinburgh, Scotland:

Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) is a growing research field with many application areas that could have a big impact not only economically, but also on the way we live and the kind of relationships we may develop with machines. Due to its interdisciplinary nature different views and approaches towards HRI need to be nurtured. This symposium will provide a platform to discuss collaboratively recent findings and challenges in HRI. Different categories of submissions are encouraged that reflect the different types of research studies that are being carried out. The symposium will encourage a diversity of views on HRI and different approaches taken. In the highly interdisciplinary research field of HRI, a peaceful dialogue among such approaches is expected to contribute to the synthesis of a body of knowledge that may help HRI sustain its creative inertia that has drawn to HRI during the past 10 years many researchers from HCI, robotics, psychology, the social sciences, and other fields.

The symposium will highlight a variety of topics, some of which include sensors and interfaces for HRI, human-aware robot perception, dialogue and multi-modal human-robot interaction, robot architectures for socially intelligent robots, HRI field studies in naturalistic environments, robots that learn socially and adapt to people and embodied interfaces for smart homes.

There will also be a companion symposium called, Killer robots or friendly fridges: the social understanding of Artificial Intelligence, which will address ethical issues in HRI.

Abstracts and submissions will be taken for the conference until January 9th, 2009.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff


If any single figure could be considered the guru for the current embodied philosophy movement, it has to be George Lakoff. Although technically a linguist, he is probably best known for his extensive interdisciplinary work in cognitive science, conceptual metaphor and politics. His published work includes the closest thing to a bible in the embodiment movement, Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, which he co-authored with Mark Johnson. And he co-authored the breakthrough book, Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, with Rafael Núñez, which has spearheaded the entire field of embodied mathematics.

Arguably, Lakoff’s original foray into embodiment began within his work with conceptual metaphor, which has revolutionized the importance of that subfield within the embodiment movement. His work there can be most accessed in the books, Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson) and More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (with Mark Turner). And one work which bridges many of these earlier ideas is Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. His other contributions to linguistics have included proposing generative semantics as a substitute to Chomsky’s generative syntax.

Obviously Lakoff’s work here has been canonical, but he’s also well known for his political work, which primarily regards political rhetoric and political linguistics. As a political strategist, Lakoff has often been hailed as the “liberal Karl Rove”. He is the founder of the progressive think tank, the Rockridge Institute.

George Lakoff is currently a professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972.

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coldshoulder2
A new study appearing in the journal of Psychological Science suggests that the metaphor of social coldness can make the body actually feel cold.

Subjects in the study, when shrugged off and left socially isolated, believed that room temperature was significantly lower than subjects who were involved in social interaction. The study also found that socially shrugged individuals had a stronger craving for hot drinks and food, such as hot chocolate and soup.

This demonstrates more than just how conceiving of things through bodily metaphor (such as the notion of social isolation being ‘cold’– i.e., ‘being given a cold shoulder’) can influence the actual state of the body. Perhaps more aptly, it suggests that our bodily experiences of a particular situation can frame how we conceive of that situation.

The study supports the hypothesis within embodied cognition that conceptualization must be essentially metaphorical. That is, conceptualization is tied to how the body is situated, thus higher-level, conscious understanding is conceived through bodily metaphor.

Researchers also said the findings may suggest that hot chocolate could be a better comfort food for rejection than ice cream.

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This is not exactly the most engaging production, but the discussion does span a wide variety of issues related to embodiment.

Hubert Dreyfus discusses notions of embodiment throughout the history of philosophy, particularly in relation to the philosophy of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and relates it to modern research within Artificial Intelligence and the Internet.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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