Artefactual Intelligence: The Development and Use of Cognitively Congenial Artefacts

University dissertation from Dept. of Cognitive Science, Kungshuset, Lundagård, 222 22 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: How can tools help structure tasks to make them cognitively easier to perform? How do artefacts, and our strategies for using them, develop over time in cognitively beneficial ways? These are two of the main questions that are explored in the five papers collected in this thesis. The first paper details an ethnographic study conducted on people cooking in their homes. The study is a first pass over the issues and focuses, in particular, on how people handle timing constraints, use the spatial layout of objects to encode information, and how tools in the working environment are adapted and appropriated. The paper that follows outlines a number of principal ways in which artefacts can reduce the cognitive burdens of performing routine tasks. The starting point for the paper is that artefacts transform the structure of the tasks in which they figure. The paper details a number of such transformations and outlines their cognitive consequences. The third paper introduces the notion of ’cognitive biographies’ and relates the cognitive history of a large shelf of spices: a history of the evolving artefact that focuses on physical changes in the object and the cognitive corollaries of those changes. It is argued that the history of a task may be a necessary part in understanding the current use of an artefact. Furthermore, if we subscribe to a situated view of cognition, then the genesis, evolution and adjustment to cognitively significant physical structures ought to be an essential part of a complete account of cognition. The fourth paper takes a longer-term historical perspective and traces the evolution of firearms from the middle ages to the present day and analyses the changing cognitive demands of using this class of artefacts. The topic of the fifth and final paper of the thesis (a co-authored effort) is the perennial problem of self-control. A basic model of the domain of self-control is provided and a range of suggestions for how modern sensor and computing technology might be of use in scaffolding and augmenting our self-control abilities is presented. The proposed solutions are founded on the possibilities of precommitment, and explication of self-knowledge, afforded by these new technologies.

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