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Extending the Mind with Cognitive Prosthetics?

Andy Clark's presentation in Sorbonne, "Philosophy of the Web" seminar, March 31 2012.

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Extending the Mind with Cognitive Prosthetics?

  1. 1. Extending the Mind with Cognitive Prosthetics?Andy ClarkSchool of Philosophy, Psychologyand Language Sciences (PPLS)University of Edinburgh,Scotland, UKandy.clark@ed.ac.uk
  2. 2. With special thanks to: Rob Rupert, Kenneth Aizawa,Fred Adams, Mark Rowlands, Dave Chalmers, JulianKiverstein, Mark Sprevak, Richard Menary, and MikeWheeler.
  3. 3. The Extended Mind Debate
  4. 4. Where in physicalspace lies themachinery of mindand cognition?
  5. 5. What it isn’t: Target is that themachinery of mind might, perhaps in some alien beings, besmeared across more than the neural economy.
  6. 6. Nor is the claim merely that non-brain activityimpacts the mind.No-one denies that causal commercebetween mind and world matters, and itchanges what we think.The contentious claim is that themechanisms of mind are not all in the head(= the extended mind hypothesis’- Clarkand Chalmers (1998)
  7. 7. It’s as if someone said that your calculatoror currency converter’s MECHANISMSwere not all inside your laptop.This is when, e.g., we use a web-basedcurrency converter.It is when we use the built-in calculatoron the mac.
  8. 8. TXM: The Main Idea: The mechanisms of (your) mind are as free to bleed into the (rest of the) world as the mechanisms of calculation are to bleed into the web
  9. 9. Q/ Just how crazy is this
  10. 10. 1.The Extended Mind Claim (super-mini-version)2. Some Objections and Replies3.Cognitive Extension versus CognitiveShrinkage
  11. 11. The Extended Mind ClaimFor the brain, it doesn’t matter whether information isstored in the head or in the wider world, just so long asit knows what kind of information is there and howto get at it as soon as we (the agent) need to put it tosome practical use.Brains like ours are already adeptat trading easy access againstexpensive internal biologicalrepresentation and storage.
  12. 12. Roboticists and psychologists have known this for awhile..Brooks: “The world isits own best model” O’Regan: “The world as external memory”
  13. 13. That feeling of seeing all the colour and detail in thescenes is probably due to a kind of implicit meta-knowing.Our brains know that they can usually retrieve moredetailed info when needed, so we feel as if we alreadysee all the detail.This is not really a mistake.For we are poised to access that information just-in-time for use.
  14. 14. TXM = a cognitive application of the same idea.Compare: your feeling that you already know whatmonth this isThis is not due to your constantly rehearsing theanswer in your conscious mind(continually sub-vocalizing “March” ‘March”“March”).
  15. 15. Rather, it is due to your implicit meta-knowing thatThis is the kind of thing you know and that (innormal circumstances) you are poised to access thatinformation pretty much at will and as and whenneeded.
  16. 16. So maybe being ‘ready-stored in the head’ is anoptional extra for dispositional believing (standingbeliefs) too?Perhaps what matters here too (Clark and Chalmers(1998) is being poised for easy access….Yields the case of ‘note-book Otto’….
  17. 17. But TXM is not only about dispositional beliefs…manyof our best mind-extending loops into the world (justlike many of the best loops inside the brain) are much,much fancier than simple access/retrieval loops…think of loops like these:gesturing while you talk (actively looping into thebody) – see Clark “Curing Cognitive Hiccups” Journal of Philosophy 2008)scribbling while you think (looping into ‘passive’external media, but not a case of simple offloading)working with a highly-practiced software package(looping into an active semi-intelligent sub-system)…
  18. 18. This complexity is highlighted in a famous exchangebetween Richard Feynman (the Nobel laureate physicist)and the historian Charles Weiner“ Weiner once remarked casually that [a batch of notes andsketches] represented “a record of [Feynman’s] day-to-daywork,” and Feynman reacted sharply. “I actually did the work on the paper,” he said. “Well,” Weiner said, “the work was done in your head,but the record of it is still here.” “No, it’s not a record, not really. It’s working. You haveto work on paper and this is the paper. Okay?” “Quoted in Genius (Gleick’s biography of Feynman)
  19. 19. It is not that all the thinking happens inside, and the loop outinto symbols on a page is just a kind of convenience or a wayto avoid forgetting.Rather, the loops to external media form part and parcel of acomplex, integrated, bio-technologically hybrid systemfor thinking.For lots of examples and discussion, see Clark, SupersizingThe Mind (Oxford Univ Press, 2008))
  20. 20. The extended mind story is most convincing, I think, when we can by-pass the stage of consciously consulting an external or internal information store at all…. Trials (at MIT Media Lab) of so-called ‘memory glasses’: aids to recall for people with impaired memory or visual recognition skills.The Memory Glasses: Wearable Computing for Just-in-Time Memory Support Richard W. DeVaul(MIT thesis, 2004). See also paper in 7th IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers(2003)
  21. 21. = a Terminator style eye-glass display
  22. 22. The glasses work by matching the current scene (a face, for example) to stored information and cueing the subject (using the glasses-mounted display) with relevant information (a name, a relationship).The Memory Glasses: Wearable Computing for Just-in-Time Memory Support Richard W. DeVaul(MIT thesis, 2004). See also paper in 7th IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers(2003)
  23. 23. The cue may be overt (consciously perceived by thesubject) or covert (rapidly flashed and hencesubliminally presented).In the covert case, functionality is still improvedwithout any process of conscious awareness of thecueing on the part of the subject.Subjects like this a lot better!
  24. 24. It is easy to imagine cases that then enhanceknowledge rather than merely ‘restore’ it.Recognizr is a controversial app. purchased byApple (for over 15 million dollars).- it makes a 3D facemap on-the-spot from aphoto input.
  25. 25. That means other applications can then matchthat face to pictures taken from other angles etcon the web, rapidly identifying the person andretrieving all kinds of associated information.Upshot: a body-mounted camera could constantlygenerate these 3D face-maps, then get and actupon a bunch of additional information from arapid web-trawl.
  26. 26. Imagine a versionwhere, if the personmeets some desiredcondition (e.g. being afan of Paris SG) youget a barely-perceptible buzz froma vibrotactile elementsomewhere on yourbody.
  27. 27. What happens when THAT becomes part of thesuite of robustly available equipment, throughwhich you encounter the wider world?Soon you cease to consciously notice the gentlebuzz and simply register what it is telling you.
  28. 28. “just knowing” who is (probably) an SG fanwill then simply become part of how youexperience a new situation.Your in-the-head cognitive routines will becomegeared to the easy availability of the information,creating a new, co-adapted, cognitive whole.= ‘cognitive dovetailing’
  29. 29. The operation of a wide variety of such continuouslyrunning programs may be compared to that of yourown (complex, active!) unconscious neural sub-structures.You will count as ‘using’ these software entities onlyin the same attenuated sense as you ‘use’ yourhippocampus or frontal lobes.Far better to say that the agent that IS you just is thelarger distributed system.
  30. 30. Speculation:Such innovations – made increasinglypossible by the combination of web-basedinfrastructure and portable technologiesthat can learn about the agent as theagent uses them - will increasingly blurthe boundaries between our own mindsand the technological infrastructures inwhich we live, work, and play.
  31. 31. “Google Glasses”, expected to hit the marketwithin a year, may nudge us in this directionsooner than we think …
  32. 32. TXM SummaryPortable (or always available/ubiquitous)Robust.andDovetailed (co-adapted)Augmentations“PRaDA accessories become you” 34
  33. 33. Some Worries and Replies Adams and Aizawa (2008) find TXM ‘outrageous’ and ‘preposterous’ (p.vii). Whatever plausibility it has, they suggest, it gets by cheating.Adams, F and Aizawa, K (2008) The Bounds of Cognition(Blackwell)
  34. 34. First, it relies on a fuzzy, untriangulated notion of ‘cognition’.We gave no ‘mark of the cognitive’, so how can we tellwhere the machinery of cognition lies?Second, the best candidate for such a mark involves non-derived contents and they are all said to be found only ‘in thehead’.Third, there are characteristic properties that the in-the-headstuff displays that the rest doesn’t, so we can’t (evenbracketing non-derived content) run a functional-samenessargument here.
  35. 35. So how come anyone is even tempted?Only thanks (A and A suggest) to:1. The error of mistaking (mere) causalcoupling for something more profound, more‘constitutive’.= rather like mistaking the inputs to acalculator for part of the machinery thatcalculates
  36. 36. and/or 2.The error of confusing the cognitive processwith the cognitive systemthe latter may include (inner and outer) partsand processes that aid and abet cognition,without themselves participating in truecognitive processing.(= like mistaking the calculator’s casing orbatteries for part of the calculating engine).
  37. 37. Concerning the mark of the cognitiveA and A suggest, as a plausible ‘mark of the cognitive’ thepresence of “non-derived representations governed byidiosyncratic kinds of processes” (p.10).The kinds of inscription found in e.g. some online storage failto make the grade on both counts.They involve derived (that is, in some sense humanlyassigned) meanings.And they do not behave in the same ways as their in-the-head counterparts (for example, they fail to display variouswell-known psychological effects, such as the recency effectwhich systematically favors late entries in a list (p.63)).
  38. 38. But notice: non-derived representations (see Clark(2005) for discussion) are indeed present in anyputative overall cognizing systemEven on the extended view, every extended mind willinvolve some operations defined overrepresentations whose meanings are non-derived.
  39. 39. So the real question here concernsthe acceptability of derivedrepresentations or contents asgenuine elements in a distributed orhybrid cognitive process that quiteclearly involves many non-derivedones too.I don’t think we have clear intuitionsabout this(consider manipulatingVenn diagrams in the head)
  40. 40. What about the rest of the clause? “non-derivedrepresentations governed by idiosyncratickinds of processes” (p.10).A and A note that human biological memorysystems look to be characterized by certainpsychological laws (eg primacy, recency andchunking effects).But to identify cognitive candidacy bycomparison to typical human inner neuralprocesses threatens (see Wheeler (2008)) to bequestion-begging in the context of this debate
  41. 41. In any case, we should reject the idea that thesurface psychological laws that happen tocharacterize the inner (bio-cognitive) realm inhuman agents should in any way define thecognitive realm itselfMartian bio-memory, evenif it didnt display e.g. therecency and chunkingeffects found in humanneural memory systems,could surely count as anaspect of Martian cognition.
  42. 42. ..helps reveal the real role of the ParityPrinciple (from Clark and Chalmers(1998)).If, as we confront some task, a part of theworld functions as a process which, were itto go on in the head, we would have nohesitation in accepting as part of thecognitive process, then that part of theworld is (for that time) part of the cognitiveprocess.
  43. 43. What Parity Isn’t:PP does NOT require the bio-external elementsto be operating in exactly the ‘same way’ as thebio-internal elements.Rather, the Parity Principle is best seen as ademand that we assess the bio-externalcontributions with the same kind of unbiasedvision that we ought to bring to bear on analien neural or inner organization.It is a call not for sameness, but forsameness of opportunity
  44. 44. Parity Probe =akin to a ‘veil of metabolic ignorance’asks what our attitude would be ifcurrently external means ofinformation storage andtransformation were found in biology.= about avoiding a rush to judgmentbased on spatial location alone.
  45. 45. PP is a tool that’s meant to help us deploy our pre-theoreticgrip on the cognitive without the distractions of skin and skull.We surely do have such a grip.It is only courtesy of such a grip that we can tell that eg thecolour or texture of the brain is not (as far as we know) acognitive-processing relevant feature.
  46. 46. PP = thus what Mark Sprevak dubs a ‘Fair Play Principle’: ithelps us avoid a rush to judgment based on the spatial locationand/or the processing idiosyncrasies of human wetware.
  47. 47. Indeed, avoiding human wetware chauvinism isnecessary quite close to home, if we are to allow fore.g. the minds of cats
  48. 48. Suppose cat-brains turn out not to displaysome of the signature features of humanmemory systems?Should we conclude that cat-memory is notreal memory?Adams and Aizawa are alert (p.71-73) to theworry, but their discussion is revealing…
  49. 49. “These observations suggest a complication in theevaluation of the hypothesis of extended cognition.They suggest that we cannot refute the hypothesis ofextended cognition simply on the grounds that thecombination of brain, body, and environment does notform a conglomerate that is like a normal humancognitive processor. The combination could havesome general, non-human, kind of cognition…that isrelated to human cognition in only a “familyresemblance” kind of way.” (p.72).
  50. 50. But in this passage ‘like a normal humancognitive processor’ already seems to mean‘like a normal human in-the-headmechanism’.This makes the response look question-begging.For the challenge that the theorist of extendedcognition often means to raise to this veryidentification.
  51. 51. What about the putative "coupling/constitution fallacy” in arguments for theextended mind?= the fallacy of moving from the causalcoupling of some object or process to somecognitive agent, to the conclusion that theobject or process is part of (helpsconstitute) the agents cognitiveprocessing.
  52. 52. "Question: Why did the pencilthink that 2+2=4?Clarks Answer: Because it wascoupled to themathematician…. That aboutsums up what is wrong with [ the]extended mind hypothesis.”From Adams and Aizawa (‘Defending theBounds of Cognition’ )
  53. 53. Question: Why did the V4 neuron ‘think’ thatthere was a spiral pattern in the stimulus?Answer: Because it was coupled to the (rest ofthe) monkey.
  54. 54. Let’s try that again:…..the coupling is what the V4 neuron,whose response characteristics are such-and-such, to in virtueof which , in thelarger Monkey-system, is exhibited.Unlike, say, the created inthat neuron in isolation, which wouldn’t be partof any cognitive process at all
  55. 55. The Appeal to Coupling (Revisited)Coupling is just the thatallows extended or distributed cognitiveprocesses to emerge, and be maintained, whileprocessing proceeds.
  56. 56. Examples:Inter-hemisphere coupling, as in part enabled bythe corpus callosum.Neural-bodily coupling, as between neural systemsand movements of hand and arm. See e.g. the caseof gesture, discussed at length in Clark (2007) (2008)Neural-bodily-wordly coupling, as between neuralsystems, bodily effectors, and bio-external resourcessuch as sketchpads,notebooks, and the web. Seee.g. discussions in Clark (2008) Supersizing the Mind
  57. 57. But still, I agree that not all coupling creates extendedcognitive systems…Many things (like the weather, or a bang on the head) mayimpact cognition but are not thereby parts of the cognizingmachine. 59
  58. 58. Thought Experiment 1Suppose the rhythmic pulse of rain on my Edinburgh windowsomehow helps the pace and sequencing of a flow ofthoughts.Is the rain now part of my cognitive engine? Probably not.. 60
  59. 59. Thought Experiment 2A robot that deliberately seeks thoseconditions, because it is designed to useraindrop sounds to time, sequence, and pacesome internal operations essential to propercognizing.?? 61
  60. 60. Thought Experiment 3Imagine a robot that evolved to spitstored water at a plate on its ownbody so as to use the auditory signal totime and sequence key neuralinformation-processing operations. 62
  61. 61. Those self-maintained, self-stimulating signals are bestseen (I claim) as part of the cognitive mechanism itself. Aneural clock or oscillator would surely count after all…Much of advanced cognition involves the deployment ofcognitive processes that create (or sometimes just elicit)the inputs that continuously drive those and/or othercognitive processes along (speech, sketching, writing, andgesture, seem like prime examples of such self-createdsystemic inputs). 63
  62. 62. In these special loop-y contexts, the simple input vspart-of-processing distinction, with its associated banon counting inputs as parts of processingmechanisms seems wrong.= Self-stimulation as one clean route from mere inputsto parts of mechanisms..
  63. 63. Compare: the car makes exhaust fumes (outputs) that arealso inputs that drive the turbo that adds power (oftenaround 30% more power!) to the engine.The exhaust fumes are outputs that are also self-created inputs that surely form a proper part of theoverall power-generating mechanism= automotive self-stimulation! 65
  64. 64. Another Kind of WorryRob Rupert (2009) looks able to allow the spittingrobot to possess a bodily extended cognizing circuit,but would reject the use of paper or other off-bodystorage
  65. 65. This is because Rupert argues for a special statusfor the most portable bundle of processing powersthat characterize the biological organism.He sees this bundle as the constant target(implicitly or explicitly) of most work in psychologyand neuroscience.Various arguments: I’ll look just at two: asymmetryand integration
  66. 66. AsymmetriesEg (Rupert) If you destroy anotebook, a cognizing agent maywell replace it. But destroy thebrain and that’s (literally) all shewrote!Or (Harry Collins) When my props and aids go wrong it is Iwho have to repair them. They will never repair me.There seems to be a deep asymmetry, or lopsidedness,between the role of the notebook and that of the brain.
  67. 67. Reply:So What?
  68. 68. Take a small part of the neural crew, and veryoften ‘I’ can survive perfectly well without it (aneuron or two, visual cortex, MT)Similarly, when aspects of my own bio-memorystart to become unreliable, I may deliberately shifttowards alternative means of storage and retrieval.The apparent lopsidedness (I have to take stepsto offset the loss of my own bio-memoryfunctioning) does not threaten the claim that, priorto the loss, those internal resources wererealizing my cognitive activities.Ditto, then, for the notebooks and sketchpads…
  69. 69. (Sprevak) Don’t hold the external stuffto higher standards than we’d holdaspects of the brain’s ownfunctioning.
  70. 70. IntegrationRupert claims there are severe scientific costs toadopting the extended perspective, as we may begin tolose our experimental grip on the integrated bundles ofprocessing resources (agents) that psychology andneuroscience seeks to study.Sally-the organism (call that ‘O-Sally’)O-Sally + iPhoneO-Sally +notebookO-Sally + Tommy
  71. 71. Re these putative costsI just don’t see them.No need to lose our grip on the core biological bundle.Any more than attention to whole brains makes us losetrack of the special contribution of the hippocampalbundle, or of the right hemisphere bundle…
  72. 72. The invitation is to let a thousand flowers bloom.
  73. 73. If our goal is to understand what a (a socially andtechnologically situated entity) can do, we’d better study theclass of systems that includes loops through the body,artifacts, the web, other agents etc.If the goal is to understand what the persisting biologicalorganism alone can do (say, by way of mathematicalreasoning) we might want to restrict the use of all non-biological props and aids. Fingers yes, notepads no
  74. 74. If it is to discover the stand-alone capacities of the neuralapparatus, we might want to impede subjects from using theirfingers as counting buffers during an experiment. No fingers,no gesturesIf it is to track the contribution of a specific neural sub-structure, we might want to use TMS to get a better grip onthat.
  75. 75. All these targets are boththeoretically and experimentallyviable!TXM invites us to tackle them all,and to do so as part of a singleinterdisciplinary project ofunderstanding the distinctivelyhuman mind.
  76. 76. A last question to ponder:so…is all this potential change andcognitive ‘upgrading’ a GOOD thing,or is it a dangerous early step on theroad to some dark and ‘post-human’future?
  77. 77. A common worry:To allow all these well-fitted, transparent tools tocount as genuine aspects of OURSELVES is tolose sight of our essential humanity.It is to risk a kind of bodily, sensory, and cognitivedissolution, as we slowly but surely lose track ofwhere WE stop and the world of tools andtechnologies around us begins.= a kind of personal dissolution into the bio-technological matrix..
  78. 78. A kind of bodily, sensory, and cognitive BLOAT
  79. 79. Keith Butler tries to stop the bloat by appeal to a notion of thebiological brain as ultimate controller“Even if external elements sometimes participate in processesof control and choice ( your software agent might choosesome stocks and shares, and so on) still it is always thebiological brain that has the final say”So the brain is the controller and chooser of actions in a wayall that external stuff is not.So the external stuff should not count as part of the realcognitive system. See eg Butler (1998), see also Adams andAizawa (2002, 2008) 81
  80. 80. But I am not convinced.Re-applying the “locus of control” criterion inside the headhelps reveal what’s going wrong.Do we now count as not part of my mind or myself anyneural subsystems that are not the ultimate arbiters ofaction and choice?Suppose only my frontal lobes have the final say- does thatshrink the “real mind” to just the frontal lobes!?What if no subsystem has the ‘final say (Dennett)?Has the mind and self just disappeared? 82
  81. 81. It is a mistake to think that all those“cognitive tools” need some kind ofwafer-thin user…This is where the ghost of Descartesseeps out from under the contemporarymaterialist rug 83
  82. 82. I think, though, that we shouldbe MUCH more worried by thealternative, which is a kind ofunprincipled shrinkage of themind and self!
  83. 83. Brainbound’s Last Stand?Brie Gertler (2007) has argued for what she calls ‘thenarrow mind’ (TNM)According to TNM, the realm of the mental consists onlyof the contents of occurrent conscious, processing.This allows her to reject the arguments for TXM by e.g.rejecting standing beliefs (classing them as not ‘mental’)hence sidestepping the parity considerations.If only what is active and conscious here and now ismental, then the physical base of mind (thus reduced)plausibly does shrink back to well within the bounds ofskin and skull….
  84. 84. But restricting the mental/cognitive to theoccurrent and conscious is a drastic stepIt renders huge swathes of crucial in-headprocessing non-mental.Do we really want to avoid cognitive ‘bloat’ at thecost of shrinking the mind so dramatically?This seems scientifically unwarranted andethically dubious…
  85. 85. A Closing Story: DeaconPatrick JonesJones suffers severememory impairments asa result of repeatedtraumatic brain injury.Yet he lives a surprisinglynormal life as a workingcatholic deacon inColorado Springs.This is not due to anysuper hi-tech interventions.
  86. 86. Jones relies upon a combination of the popularsoftware Evernote, a Mac program for visualizationcalled Curio, and an iPhone.Courtesy of these off-the-shelf packages anddevices Jones is able to create massive webs ofinterlinked notes and pointers that allow thesaving, searching, retrieving, and diagramming of hisown contacts, thoughts, meetings, decisions,and interactions.See “What if HM had a Blackberry?” Gary Marcus,Psychology Today, December 2008
  87. 87. Amazingly, it is only in virtue of this whole up-and-running web of structure that he able to recall whohe has spoken with, what was decided, and soon.Yet he carries through complex long-term projects ofpastoral care with incredible skill, optimism, andgood humour.
  88. 88. Patrick’s mental life is now built (it seems to me)upon a foundation of both biological and non-biological processing and storage.If you were to hack into and destroy his EVERNOTErecords, that would be a crime against the person,not merely a crime against his cyber-property.It would be tantamount, as Dan Dennett oncecommented, to inflicting brain damage on someonewhile they sleep.
  89. 89. Issues of ownership and legal protection mustsoon loom here.Do Patrick’s software providers have the right todelete his records if he fails to keep uppayments?Do they have the right to cease to support oldsoftware, even if it has become deeply dovetailedwith an ageing human’s biological brain?What if Patrick and his spouse create a sharedresource then split up?
  90. 90. Issues like these will surely arise as ourcognitive technologies grow better and better,and the ongoing dovetailing of brains andtechnologies becomes more and morepronounced.Our laws, educational practice, and socialpolicy need to plan for a near-future in whichindividual minds are web-extended,technology-permeated artifacts, apt for allkinds of transformation, repair, extension,and enhancement
  91. 91. Maybe the best way to do sois start by recognizing that it’scognitive technologies all theway down….

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  • objetdart

    Jun. 11, 2012

Andy Clark's presentation in Sorbonne, "Philosophy of the Web" seminar, March 31 2012.


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