Offloading Cognition onto the Web

Leslie Carr, Stevan Harnad
2011 IEEE Intelligent Systems  
In modeling human cognitive capacity there is a question of what needs to be built in and what can be left out, because we can offload it onto cognitive technology, such a google web search. Word meanings can be represented in two different ways: sensorimotor and verbal. Verbals definitions and descriptions can be offloaded, sensorimotor representations cannot. Dictionaries have a "grounding kernel" of words from which all other words can be reached through recombinatory definition alone. The
more » ... rds are learned at an earlier age and are more concrete. We tested conjunctive and disjunctive google search for target terms that had their own wikipedia entries, using either the target terms themselves, or the three words that had the highest cooccurrence frequency (latent semantic analysis) with the target words in Wordnet. The highly cooccurring words were surprisingly ineffective in retrieving the target word, even in joint conjunctive and disjunctive searches and there was no significant correlation with age of acquisition or concreteness. This raises some questions about the similarity between human associative memory and googlebased associative search. Implicit and Explicit KnowHow. Neuropsychology and neuroimaging studies have confirmed what we all knew already from introspection: That some of our know-how is conscious, but most of it is not. Learning, skill, knowledge and memory all come in two forms: "explicit," in which we are aware of and can hence describe in words how we are able to do what we are doing, and "implicit," in which we can do what we do, but we have no idea how we are doing it. Most of cognitive science is devoted to explaining how we are able to do what we can do by trying to discover the implicit (unconscious) mechanisms underlying our cognitive competence and making them explicit. Conscious introspection does not reveal what they are. The explanatory goal of cognitive science is to reverse engineer what it takes to pass the Turing Test (TT): Once we can successfully design a system that is capable of doing whatever any person can do, indistinguishably from any person, to any person, then we have a candidate explanation of how the human brain does it. What KnowHow Cannot Be Offloaded Onto Cognitive Technology? Many variants of the TT have been mooted, most of them irrelevant to explaining cognition, but we will consider one thoughtexperimental variant here so as to illuminate certain cognitive questions: The TT is a comparison between human and machine, to determine whether or not the performance capacity of the machine is distinguishable from that of the human. In the online era, increasingly powerful cognitive technology is available for people to use to do what they formerly had to do in their heads, as well as to enhance their performance capacity. One could even say that it is becoming possible to offload more and more cognitive processing onto cognitive technology, liberating as well as augmenting the performance power of the human brain. What effect -if any -does this have on the search for the underlying mechanism that cognitive science is trying to model and the TT is trying to test? How much (and what) of cognitive capacity cannot be offloaded onto cognitive technology (Dror & Harnad 2009 )? The question is related -but in a somewhat counterintuitive way --to the difference between
doi:10.1109/mis.2011.19 fatcat:sgyj7umah5h45kyoujaw2vc3ma