Robert Clowes

Does the Cloud Signify a New
Kind of Wide Mind?
KNEW Workshop in Kazimierz, Poland in association
Robert Clowes
IFL, New University of Lisbon
Tuesday 20th of August,
Cognitive Technologies have been with
us for a long time
Many technological
developments, from
writing to cooking can
bring with them changes
in the modes or scope of
human thinking.
Some Important Discussions:
Donald, M. (1991). Origins of the Modern Mind. Cambridge, Massachussetts: Harvard University Press.
Gregory, R. L. (1981). Mind in Science: A history of Explanations in Psychology. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.
Luria, A. R., & Vygotsky, L. S. (1992). Ape, Primitive Man and Child: Essays in the History of Behaviour: Simon and Schuster.
1. Cognitive technologies, their history and prehistory.
2. The current technological conjunction of the
Internet (Cloud-Tech and E-Memory) and
four cognitive properties.
Memory Technologies
The history of the human race is in part the history of how
our organic memory systems have been undergoing a
constant process of elaboration and adaptation as we have
created wave after wave of extended memory
technologies. But how should we theorize this change?
What are Cognitive Technologies
According to Donald
Norman: “A cognitive
artefact is an artificial
device designed to
maintain, display, or
operate upon
information” (Norman,
Norman, D. A. (1990). Cognitive artifacts:
Department of Cognitive Science, University of
California, San Diego.
Cognitive Artefacts
I’ve defined Cognitive Artefacts as:
“artificial devices which either,
perform functions that, were they
carried out in the brain should count
as cognitive, or significantly support,
extend or complement such
Clowes, R. W. (Forthcoming). Thinking in the Cloud: The Cognitive Incorporation of
Cloud-Based Technology. Philosophy and Technology.
By Cloud-Tech, I refer to “the cloud” of distributed Internet
mediated data-technologies and associated devices that
provide wireless network services to us through, and with,
artefacts and devices that we carry and increasingly wear. The
cloud can be seen as a central part of the current material
realization of ubiquitous computing (Weiser, 1991) whereby
computer processing technology has come to be an everpresent part of our lives. The distinctive form this cloud
technology takes is a bunch of highly personalised dataservices and associated applications which we can access and
which track us through a variety of devices including our
personal computers, but now most especially, our mobile and
smart phones.
I use the term E-Memory to refer to a heterogeneous
bunch of digital devices and systems which fulfil
similar functions either by replacement, extension
or augmentation to biological memory systems. One
recent study (Sellen & Whittaker, 2010) details how
E-Memory systems can support a range of human
memory functions, including what the authors call
the five Rs, namely: recollecting, reminiscing,
retrieving, reflecting and remembering intention.
A Shallow(s) Critique
Instead of looking at the
purported cognitive
effects (or impacts) of
the technologies, I’ll
instead concentrate on
the cognitive
affordances of these
Four Factors in Cognitive Technology
I’ll argue there are four aspects of E-Memory and
Cloud-Tech which conjointly pick out the main
novel cognitive properties of the technologies:
• Autonomy.
• Incorporability.
• Totality.
• Entanglement.
But before that ...
Two Frameworks
How should we theoretically grasp the role of
artefacts in mind. Two broad frameworks are
on offer.
• The Hypothesis of the Extended Mind.
• Cognitive Scaffolding.
The Extended Mind
The framework of the
extended mind says
cognitive technologies
can and should - under
certain circumstances –
count as actual parts of
our minds.
Cognitive Scaffolding
Sterelny offers an alternative
framework where technologies
can structure, augment, scaffold
or operate as a cognitive niche for
mind, but generally shouldn’t
count as an actual part of our
They deserve cognitive credit but are
parts of the environment.
Sterelny, K. (2010). Minds: extended or scaffolded? Phenomenology and the Cognitive
Sciences, 9(4), 465-481.
So back to the four factors:
They are:
• Autonomy.
• Entanglement.
• Totality.
• Incorporability.
I originally developed these looking at E-Memory
technologies but have (hopefully) deepened the
concepts by relating them to what I call CloudTech.
1 - Autonomy
The diary and intimate reflection
When the paper and pen diary was the imitate
reflection technology of choice, one could reasonably
expect that any record one made would tend to last.
This is no longer the case ...
We now expect that
whatever “memory
traces” we store in the
cloud to be in various
ways, data-mined,
categorised, enhanced,
re-colerized, expurgated
and in various openended ways
This reverses the historical trend to toward more
indelible “exograms” (Donald, 1993)
Donald, M. (1993). Precis of the Origins of the Modern Mind: Three stages in the evolution of
culture and cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 737-791.
Autonomy (more formally)
E-Memory repositories increasingly do not
merely store data but actively process it.
Thanks to tagging, indexing and AI systems
resident on our devices and in the cloud, we
can expect E-Memory systems to not merely
store and retrieve memory-traces and other
information, but process, restructure and represent them in ways that are independent of,
but tightly coupled to, our native cognitive
The Autonomy of E-Memory and
Cognitive Opacity.
As E-memory systems
become ever more
Autonomous (and
Entangled )we are likely to
understand less about how
they work. Even as they
become more transparentin-use to us – we use them
more easily as skilled tool
users – we tend to become
more cognitively opaque.
2 - Entanglement
Consider EdgeRank.
EdgeRank is facebook’s proprietary
technology for deciding which of
your ‘friends’ updates (or edges)
you see in your newsfeed.
Any Edge gains its rank (probably) by
summing the factors of Affinity,
Weight and Time Decay.
For most users facebook while
transparent in use is rather
cognitive opaque.
Clowes, Robert W. 2013. The Cognitive Integration of E-Memory. Review of Philosophy and
Psychology (4):107-133.
EdgeRank and Deep Entanglement
Imagine using something like the EdgeRank
algorithm to find your own Memory Traces.
What you would remember with such a
system would depend heavily on how others
have connected to you.
Clowes, R. W. (2013). The Cognitive Integration of E-Memory. Review of Philosophy and
Psychology(4), 107-133.
Entanglement (more formally)
E-Memory often tracks interactions between
people (or people and organisations). Many of
the cloud services we use rely on collective datastorage and interactions collected from a mass of
users. However it is presented back as narrowcast
and tightly coupled to the activities of us as
individuals. The data that composes many EMemory stores and cloud services is inherently
two sided in relying on the interaction of these
collective and individual dimensions
3 - Totality
Viktor Mayer- Schönberger
Gordon Bell 1934 - Present
Gordon Bell claimed in 2009 “Within five years, our personal computers will be able to
store everything we read, write, hear, and many of the images we see”
Gordon Bell wants to remember
Gordon Bell 1934 - Present
Bell in his 7th decade has set about trying to
vastly expand his biological memory with
digital prosthesis. He attempts total
capture and total recall.
Bell’s quest is based on a revolution in
digital encoding, storage and –
increasingly – recall.
Bell sees his project in the light of a neodelphic quest for self-knowledge. Bell’s
projec t raises interesting questions
about the nature of self-knowledge.
Bell, CG, and J Gemmell. 2009. Total recall: how the E-memory revolution will change everything:
The need to forget
If Memory is no longer effortful
we may be faced with a new
problem: how to forget.
Viktor Mayer- Schönberger argues
that forgetting is central to our
ability to develop and maybe
even our human essence.
He argues we should strive to
reintroduce forgetting for at
least some of our E-Memories.
The comprehensiveness of EMemory poses questions
about what we really care
Mayer-Schönberger, V. 2011. Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age: Princeton Univ Pr.
Do you feel like you’re being watched?
A totality engine –a technology which
makes possible the twin goals of total
capture and total recall – could quickly
be put into the hands of the masses with
Google Glass. Its cognitive implications?
Totality (more formally)
E-Memory and Cloud-Tech promise total
capture to record our everyday activities on a
scale and with a fidelity and completeness
that would have been practicably
unimaginable under previous regimes of
memory technology. Cloud Tech promises an
ever-present repository of “memory traces”
that can be retrieved and brought to bear on
ongoing cognition as and when needed: total
Is Cloud Tech a Complementary
Totality is a factor that appears
to be very different to
human memory – but
interestingly Autonomy,
and Entanglement seem
more like aspects of
biological memory in some
respects. Should they then
be seen as competitors
rather than complements of
our organic resources?
Sutton, J. (2010). Exograms and interdisciplinarity: history, the extended mind, and the civilizing
process. In R. Menary (Ed.), The Extended Mind (pp. 189-225). London, England: Bradford Book,
MIT Press.
4 - Practical Cognitive Incorporability
E-Memory and Cloud-Tech are rapidly becoming the
constant context to many of cognitive processes.
The devices which present this technology
increasingly possess a transparency of use that
makes them competitors (or complements) with
certain of our internal resources. It is often as
easy, or easier, to rely upon these technologies to
carry out certain cognitive tasks than internal
organic resources. They are thus poised for deep
and pervasive integration with our organic
cognitive systems .
Does Incorporability imply the
Extended Mind
Incorporable technologies will typically meet the conditions set on
technologies ripe for inclusion as parts of our extended mind.
Constancy: A cognitive technology should be relatively constantly
accessible and, where appropriate, accessed by an agent. Where
information it contains would be so useful that the agent rarely
takes action without consulting it.
Facility: The cognitive technology can be accessed with ease and the
information it makes available can be incorporated into ongoing
cognition without great difficulty.
Trust: Upon Retrieving information the agent automatically endorses
Prior Endorsement: The information a cognitive technology presents
has been consciously endorsed or accepted by the agent at some
time in the past.
Trust and the real barriers to
Given the entangled and autonomous
nature of these technologise trust
seems to operate as a barrier to true
Extended Mind-like incorporation or
extension might really be limited by
current institutional arrangements
and also by entanglement.
The paradox of credulity is of interest
here: The more credulous we are the
more our minds seem to expand.
So does this imply that Cloud-Tech
should count as parts of our extended
Cloud-Otto and Cloud-Inga
“Imagine not only that Inga and Otto are using a mapproducing Web site that allows users to add annotations
and corrections, a sort of wiki of maps. Inga, noticing that
the main entrance to the Museum of Modern Art is closed
temporarily due to construction and so the entrance has
moved a block, add this annotation to the map, correcting
the error as regards where the Museum of Modern Art
should be. This correction is propagated at speeds very
close to real-time back to the central database behind the
Web site. ( … ) This active manipulation with updating of an
external representation lets Inga and Otto possess some
form of dynamically-changing collective cognitive state.”
Halpin, H., Clark, A., & Wheeler, M. (2010). Towards a philosophy of the Web: representation,
enaction, collective intelligence.
Personalisation and Entrenchment
Sterelny argued for a fifth Condition
on counting on the Extended
Mind: Entrenchment and
For a cognitive technology to count
as part of an agent’s Extended
Mind it needs to be customised to
an agent’s individual usage and at
the same time the agent’s own
cognitive routines and
predispositions are altered to
incorporate the thus personalized
Sterelny, K. (2010). Minds: extended or scaffolded? Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences,
9(4), 465-481.
Cloud-Otto and Cognitive Scaffolding
Social web Otto appears to meet the original
four conditions but not Sterelny’s extra
restriction. Interestingly the web-map is
heavily entrenched but not personalised. But
even if he does should such cloud-resources
count as part our extended mind?
Maybe Otto just accesses a Cognitive Commons.
Dror, I. E, and S Harnad. 2008. Offloading cognition onto cognitive technology. In Cognition
Distributed: How Cognitive Technology Extends Our Minds, edited by I. E. Dror and S. Harnad.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Epistemic Responsibility and Extended
More worryingly (it seems to me) is that if we
endorse the Hypothesis of Extended Cognition
(HEC) approach to Cloud-Otto’s mind, it is as
though much of what he knows is farmed out to
the social web. It is as though Otto no longer has
cognitive responsibility for much of his own
mental life. This suggests a problem with the
application of HEC.
How do we take epistemic responsibility in this
Clowes, Robert W. Forthcoming 2013. Thinking in the Cloud: The Cognitive Incorporation of
Cloud-Based Technology. Philosophy and Technology.
Our future upgrade path
• Certain real-world issues are likely to
condition whether E-Memory And
Cloud-Tech should be considered as
deeply incorporated in our minds.
Among these are:
– Issues of trust and security (Entanglement
and Autonomy more generally).
– The trade-off between cognitive opacity
and transparency-in-use.
– The extend that we really entrench as well
as personalise our technologies.
– Issues of Epistemic Responsibility and
How the properties play out in the
discussion of the Extended Mind.
Totality (in virtue of complementarity) might imply
we will tend to make deep cognitive use of the
technologies. Deep incorporability implies that
we will, well ... Incorporate these technologies
But Entanglement and Autonomy imply we should
at least be careful about how we should
incorporate these artefacts into our everyday
The properties pull in different directions then.
Diminishment or ...
Diminishment vs Enhancement vs Augmentation is
by no means a straightforward question and
interacts heavily with our theoretical outlook.
What a HEC theorist may see as a cognitive
enhancement, a scaffolding theorist may see as
augmentation and a traditionalist theorist as
There appears to be important ethical (and
hopefully empirical) questions here but how to
decide them.
The work presented here is supported by the Portuguese
Government FCT grant :SFRH/BPD/70440/2010 and in association
with the FCT project Cognitive Foundations of Self project:
Draft of this work were also discussed in detail with other members of
the Cognitive Foundations of Self Project. Special thanks to John
Sutton, Kirk Michaelian, Mark Bishop, Yasemin Erdin, Dina
Mendonça, João Fonseca, Klaus Gärtner, and António Marques.
Some of it is published here:
Clowes, R. W. (2012). Hybrid Memory, Cognitive Technology and Self.
Proceedings of AISB/IACAP World Congres 2012. Y. Erdin and M.
Clowes, Robert W. 2013. The Cognitive Integration of E-Memory.
Review of Philosophy and Psychology (4):107-133.

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