Technology for "cognizing"

My Institute for the Future colleague Mathias Crawford found this paper titled "Offloading Cognition onto Cognitive Technology." I read the abstract and haven't spent the time to grok it all, but I like the weird ring of the word "cognizers" to describe a kind of person. From the abstract:
"Cognizing" (e.g., thinking, understanding, and knowing) is a mental state. Systems without mental states, such as cognitive technology, can sometimes contribute to human cognition, but that does not make them cognizers. Cognizers can offload some of their cognitive functions onto cognitive technology, thereby extending their performance capacity beyond the limits of their own brain power. Language itself is a form of cognitive technology that allows cognizers to offload some of their cognitive functions onto the brains of other cognizers. Language also extends cognizers' individual and joint performance powers, distributing the load through interactive and collaborative cognition. Reading, writing, print, telecommunications and computing further extend cognizers' capacities. And now the web, with its network of cognizers, digital databases and software agents, all accessible anytime, anywhere, has become our 'Cognitive Commons,' in which distributed cognizers and cognitive technology can interoperate globally with a speed, scope and degree of interactivity inconceivable through local individual cognition alone. And as with language, the cognitive tool par excellence, such technological changes are not merely instrumental and quantitative: they can have profound effects on how we think and encode information, on how we communicate with one another, on our mental states, and on our very nature.
"Offloading Cognition onto Cognitive Technology" (


  1. So, we are able to think and communicate our thoughts to others, who can likewise communicate their thoughts to us. And now we can do it faster than ever! Who knew?

  2. Systems without mental states, such as cognitive technology, can sometimes contribute to human cognition, but that does not make them cognizers.

    Uh-huh. This sounds suspiciously like the good ‘ol “machines will never be able to think because ” canard.

    Most human languages are not truly cognitive tools – they are tools to obscure and manipulate, not tools to reveal useful information.

  3. @5: nonsense. Without language (and I include sign language), we wouldn’t be able to discuss any concept more complicated than “something is trying to eat me!” and “check me out laydeez!”. It’s debatable whether we’d even be able to think about anything more abstract than “hmm, how can I kill that gazelle?”. Just because we can use language to obscure and manipulate doesn’t mean that’s what it’s primary function is. Clothing was originally for protection (from cold, stepping on pointy things, sunburn, etc); just because it’s now largely used to make money and change how we look doesn’t mean it doesn’t still serve its original purpose.

  4. @5, I think you may be reading things into that statement. It’s not saying that machines can’t think, it’s saying that those machines which do not themselves think can nevertheless assist thinking.

    Indeed, the only reason to use the word “cognizers” (rather than “humans”) in that sentence would be to admit the possibility of non-human intelligence, that is, machines that do think.


Comments are closed.