The Network-Extended Mind

Here are two articles brought to my attention by my collaborator, a senior member of HSI engineering at Lockheed Martin. Extended mind is making its way into what one may think is an unlikely area. It’s not. Andy Clark’s cyborg is very much part of HCI – an example being a pilot’s helmet display. The emphasis in these articles, however, is on network theory.

The Network Extended Mind

Paul R. Smart, Paula C. Engelbrecht, Dave Braines, Mike Strub and Cheryl Giammanco


Whereas the traditional view in cognitive science has been to view mind and cognition as something that is the result of essentially inner, neural processes, the extended cognition perspective claims that at least some human mental states and processes stem from complex webs of causal influence involving extra-neural resources, most notably the resources of our social and technological environments. In this chapter, we explore the possibility that contemporary and near-future network systems are poised to extend and perhaps transform our human cognitive potential. We also examine the extent to which the information and network sciences are relevant to our understanding of various forms of cognitive extension, particularly with respect to the formation, maintenance and functioning of extended cognitive systems in network-enabled environments. Our claim is that the information and network sciences are relevant on two counts: firstly, they support an understanding of the mechanisms underpinning socially- and technologically-mediated forms of cognitive extension; secondly, they serve to guide and inform engineering efforts that strive to enhance and expand our cognitive capabilities. We discuss the relevance and applicability of these conclusions to current and future research exploring the contribution of network technologies to military coalition operations.

The Extended Mind and Network-Enabled Cognition

Paul R. Smart, Paula C. Engelbrecht, Dave Braines, James A. Hendler and Nigel Shadbolt


In thinking about the transformative potential of network technologies with respect to human cognition, it is common to see network resources as playing a largely assistive or augmentative role. In this paper we propose a somewhat more radical vision. We suggest that the informational and technological elements of a network system can, at times, constitute part of the material supervenience base for a human agent’s mental states and processes. This thesis (called the thesis of network-enabled cognition) draws its inspiration from the notion of the extended mind that has been propounded in the philosophical and cognitive science literature. Our basic claim is that network systems can do more than just augment cognition; they can also constitute part of the physical machinery that makes mind and cognition mechanistically possible. In evaluating this hypothesis, we identify a number of issues that seem to undermine the extent to which contemporary network systems, most notably the World Wide Web, can legitimately feature as part of an environmentally-extended cognitive system. Specific problems include the reliability and resilience of network-enabled devices, the accessibility of online information content, and the extent to which network-derived information is treated in the same way as information retrieved from biological memory. We argue that these apparent shortfalls do not necessarily merit the wholesale rejection of the network-enabled cognition thesis; rather, they point to the limits of the current state-of-the-art and identify the targets of many ongoing research initiatives in the network and information sciences. In addition to highlighting the importance of current research and technology development efforts, the thesis of network-enabled cognition also suggests a number of areas for future research. These include the formation and maintenance of online trust relationships, the subjective assessment of information credibility and the long-term impact of network access on human psychological and cognitive functioning. The nascent discipline of web science is, we suggest, suitably placed to begin an exploration of these issues.