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Cognitive Enhancement through Computational Technology

Cognitive Enhancement through Computational Technology
  • On December 8, 2016

Computational technologies are becoming inherent to our thought processes. We are exposed, nowadays, to computational technologies at an increasingly young age, for growing time spans. We live in an era of highly accessible information through an enormous number of triggers, on various technological platforms. Are our minds adapting in order to better suit this intense interaction with a changing environment? Could this massive exposure to information result in a transformation of our cognitive abilities?

In her recently published review, Possible Effects of Internet Use on Cognitive Development in Adolescence (2016), the author, K. L. Mills, addresses the possibility of cognitive change occurring due to the usage of the internet. Although, according to Mills, not enough experiments have been performed in order to draw cutting conclusions, the results of the few that have been conducted, point at assumed changes in cognitive processes. These changes might include “increased cognitive abilities such as faster task-switching”, meaning our minds are so deeply impacted by this use of technology, that they might in fact function differently than the minds of the generation preceding them[1]. These astonishing findings emphasize the connection between the brain and technology when it comes to cognition.

In the Extended Mind (1998), the authors argue that our minds have extensions in the outside world, in terms of complementing our cognitive processes[2]. In my opinion, this argument is becoming more and more valid in the face of Mills recent research. Our society is rapidly advancing towards complete reliance on computation, social media and accessible information in the virtual space. The research discussed implies just how flexible the human mind is; how quickly it adapts to changes, and how deeply substantial, in terms of influencing cognition, the communication we engage with our surrounding is. The possibility that our minds might be changing to complement technology, emphasizes the fundamental role of technology in our cognitive processes, supporting the argument that our minds and technology function together as one system.

The pairing of the human mind with technology could be well exemplified with interactive design products, and wearable technology in particular. The use of wearable technology for rehabilitation purposes is a prominent example of how technology can influence our cognition. Over the past decades, for instance, wearable technology has been successfully used to assist with rehabilitation of people with cognitive impairments. Research shows that “technological interventions can effectively facilitate participation in many activities that would otherwise not be possible”[3].

The observation of our cognition changing because of, and with technology, compels us, as designers, to rethink the implications of changing our immediate surrounding; the extensions to our minds. With new technology opportunities allowing cognitive enhancement- issues of safety, authenticity and inequality are becoming part of the design discourse[4]. I believe that it is our responsibility to make sure that the technology we develop is transforming our cognition in a desirable and ethical manner.

In conclusion, exposure to new technologies, may have far-reaching influence on our cognitive processes. This suits the perception of our minds being a part of a larger cognitive system, that builds on globally shared knowledge and experience that take the shape of technology. While trying to understand the grasp of this change in our cognition, we must reflect on the ethics of our occupation in designing our immediate environment.

 Mills, Kathryn L. “Possible effects of internet use on cognitive development in adolescence.” Media and Communication 4.3 (2016).

[2] Clark, Andy, and David Chalmers. “The extended mind.” note 4 (2015): 33.”

[3] Frank Lopresti, Edmund, Alex Mihailidis, and Ned Kirsch. “Assistive technology for cognitive rehabilitation: State of the art.” Neuropsychological rehabilitation14.1-2 (2004): 5-39.

[4] Bostrom, Nick, and Anders Sandberg. “Cognitive enhancement: methods, ethics, regulatory challenges.” Science and engineering ethics 15.3 (2009): 311-341.”

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