1ére séance du séminaire MSHS/UNS-GREDEG/Inria-WIMMICS « Artefacts numérique et matérialités » : « Minds Online : Cognitive Extension and the Web » – 7 janvier 2016
Nous aurons le plaisir d’accueillir prochainement Paul SMART (Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, University of Southampton), dans le cadre du programme « Artefacts et coordination » de l’axe 2. Son intervention, le 7 janvier 2016 à 14h00 à la MSHS Sud-Est (salle 129), constituera la première séance publique du cycle de séminaires joints MSHS/UNS-GREDEG/Inria-WIMMICS « Artéfacts numérique et matérialités » .
Elle s’intitule “Minds Online: Cognitive Extension and the Web” et tentera d’examiner divers aspects de la thèse de l’esprit étendu (extended mind) à l’aune de dispositifs numériques dont le développement a accompagné l’essor du Web.
In the two decades since its invention, the World Wide Web has emerged as the primary application of the Internet. Its growth and popularity have exerted a significant influence on almost every sphere of human activity. From socializing to software development and from shopping to social change, practically every form of human endeavour now seems to have been affected, at least to some extent, by the advent of the Web. In view of all this, it is natural to wonder about the effects of the Web on our cognitive and epistemic profiles. Does the Web serve as the basis for a profound transformation of our cognitive and epistemic capabilities, perhaps leading to a state-of-affairs in which the limits of what we know and what we can do is limited only by what our digital networks make available? Alternatively, does the Web threaten to undermine our cognitive capabilities and epistemic standing, thereby diminishing our status as cognitive and epistemic agents? One way of approaching these questions is to look at the Web through the conceptual lenses of distributed and extended cognition. Given that both distributed and extended cognition see cognition as sometimes supervening on elements of the bio-external technological and social environment, we can ask to what extent the Web (and its associated technologies) support the emergence of extended cognitive systems whose capabilities (perhaps) surpass those of individual human agents.
In this talk, I will draw attention to three kinds of cognitive extension that are supported by the Web, and which therefore yield three kinds of (Web-based) extended cognitive system. The first kind of cognitive extension is based around the claim that the technological and informational elements of the Web (and Web-enabled devices) can, on occasion, lead to forms of extended cognition centred on individual human agents. This is the form of cognitive extension that has received the most attention from philosophers and Web scientists. In addition, to reviewing some of the ways in which a number of emerging Web technologies may support extended cognition, I will also attempt to highlight some of the ways in which issues of Web-extended cognition impact on debates in contemporary epistemology, especially those regarding our status as ‘extended knowers’.
A second form of cognitive extension has also been the focus of recent empirical and theoretical attention in the cognitive scientific and philosophical literature. This is the idea that the Web serves as a platform for the emergence of distributed (or collective) cognitive systems. Here, I will consider recent ideas relating to the notion of social machines and the global brain, both of which emphasize the role of the Web (and Internet) in the realization of socially-distributed forms of intelligence. In making this analysis, I will draw attention to a recent view of intelligence that goes under the heading of mandevillian intelligence. Some technologies, I suggest, may work to degrade the capabilities of individual agents while simultaneously enhancing the capabilities of collective cognitive systems. Such claims encourage us to view our traditional concepts of cognitive/epistemic vice and virtue as relative to particular kinds of (extended) cognitive system: some forms of technology, I suggest, can help to transform what appears to be an individual cognitive vice into something that more closely resembles a collective cognitive virtue. This has a number of implications for how we view the epistemic impact of (e.g.) Web search technologies.
Finally, I will introduce the notion of human-extended machine cognition, a novel form of cognitive extension that has not been discussed in the philosophical literature. The core idea, here, is that the Web provides a mechanism by which human agents can be incorporated into globally-distributed information networks that realize various forms of machine intelligence. Such forms of incorporation enable us to think of human biological agents as themselves the material elements of extended cognitive processes that are initiated, sustained and controlled by the next generation of intelligent systems.