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Thinking outside the brain

Boss Mode Ana Campos

Is thinking done exclusively in our head? No, the philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers claim. According to them, our brain, together with new technologies, forms an "extended mind". Sounds crazy, but it's not. A plea for human and machine to come together.

by Ana Campos

Is my smartphone a mere tool or more essential, i.e. a constitutive part of my thinking apparatus? Most of us would probably opt for the first one on impulse. Because everything that happens outside our body cannot be part of us, so the "limit" of our cognition must be somewhere near the skull.

The two philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers claim exactly the opposite in their ground-breaking thesis: That our cognition, our thinking, does not take place completely within our head, but extends to new technologies. Or to put it another way: that technologies form an "extended mind" together with our brain.

What sounds crazy quickly becomes convincing if you take a simple example to illustrate the idea of the extended mind: Imagine that Otto and Inga want to visit the Museum of Modern Art. There are now two ways to find out the museum's address: Either you search for the address in your own memory, like Inga, or, like Otto, you have Google Maps search for the address. The process is ultimately the same. In Inga's case, you use your own "memory" and in Otto's case you relieve it by delegating the task.

Human and machine as a coupled system

Clark and Chalmers concluded: All the cognitive processes that have taken place within our head so far, and which are now being outsourced to technologies, are part of our "extended mind". The crucial point is that according to Clark and Chalmers, new technologies are no longer merely tools, but a constitutive part of our cognition – i.e. new technologies change the way we think, act and feel, and vice versa. For example, in terms of the ability to orientate, there are countless studies investigating changes in the brain through technology. Google, for example, for the "Google Effect" …

In summary, the Extended Mind concept therefore says nothing more than that people and technologies – together with other people, with their bodies, brains and technologies – form interconnected systems that influence each other and do so significantly. This is not just a fact to accept, but an opportunity that we should recognise and definitely take advantage of.

«To enable a world in which intelligent IT makes life and work easier as a matter of course»

Making life and work easier as a matter of course

At Trivadis, we, too, are taking advantage of this opportunity, together with customers and partners. Accordingly, our purpose is: "To enable a world in which intelligent IT makes life and work easier as a matter of course". We help relieve the burden on caregivers by collecting, providing and evaluating data from medical devices, thereby enabling them to identify any irregularities in patients early on. We support engineers by automatically detecting cracks in tunnel walls using machine learning, giving them the space to focus on more demanding tasks. We relieve employees of administrative tasks by providing them with a smart digital workplace, thereby giving them more time to work together in the team.

I could give many more examples. They all have one thing in common: People and technologies work hand in hand to make our lives and work easier.

This brings me to the title of my article: Thinking outside the brain. Our thinking does not end at the top of our skull. We have the opportunity to push boundaries and become stronger, together with other people and new technologies. It is up to us to take advantage of this opportunity.

Ana Campos

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