Archive for March, 2010


Interacting with the hybrid ecosystem

March 15, 2010

We can separate the following aspects of interacting with the hybrid ecosystem:

a) Defining ontodimensions and taking personal perspectives evokes meaningful places in ontospace and contributes to the formation of the community niche;

b) Social surveillance as a participatory monitoring, empowering and subjectivity building practice in hybrid ecosystem allows dynamic awareness of the state of the ontospace;

c) Social navigation in ontospace, as a behavior of considering actions and incorporating contents of some other individuals into our own, orientates enactment with the ontospace;

d) Social information retrieval such as semantic navigation or community browsing (actualizing some ontospace dimensions and using the found contents or people to guide their own perspectives) allows individuals to focus their meaning building and action into the community niche;

e) Stimergy and swarming refer to uncoordinated interaction of autonomous agents with the dynamic ontospace (b-d), and leaving feedback to this system (a) which at macro-level causes the emergence of global coherent intelligent behaviors and agglomeration of content.


Human cognition as a chance-seeking system: comments

March 9, 2010

Last week i finally had the chance to meet in person with Emanuele Bardone from University of Pavia, with whom i have been in contact in concerns of affordance and niche ideas for about a year when i discovered papers about eco-cognitive niche construction he wrote with Lorenzo Magnani.

Emanuele has recently defended his PhD with the thesis HUMAN COGNITION AS CHANCE-SEEKING SYSTEM.

Now i could ask the questions that concerned me the most in his theory – why they consider niche as an individual’s space rather than seeing it as an abstract space that exists and is defined by many persons of certain culture.
For me in this part their theory is a bit misleading, the concept eco-cognitive niche as a distributed knowledge representation phenomenon should not indicate the cognitive space of one person. If such distributed cognitive space exists, the relationship how personal cognitive space would be influenced by culturally emergent niche and vice versa needs still to be explained. Bardone tends to use the word smart environment or ambient intelligence instead of traditional (biological) niche conceptualizations.

I interpret niche as a community or species based phenomenon (Pata, 2009).

Ecologies are formed as a result of many individuals taking actions. Thus, people with various perspectives are simultaneously at present in these ecologies and influencing them. Many abstract subspaces can be formed within ecologies.
These groups of individuals have something in common in their identity. They form communities who inhabit the same abstract learning spaces in the ecology – niches.
The formation of learning spaces as niches for specific learning-related activities happens through the social definition of several factors that influence learning.
Hutchinson (1957) defined a niche as a region (n-dimensional hypervolume) in a multi-dimensional space of environmental factors that affect the welfare of a species.
She also made difference of fundamental and realized niche – the former exist as the complex of all necessary environmental characteristics for certain species, the latter is formed under the pressure of all the currently available environmental characteristics in the competitive conditions with other species.
Niches have been conceptualized as the environmental gradients with certain ecological amplitude, where the ecological optimum marks the gradient peaks where the organisms are most abundant. In the gradient concept structural ecosystem properties are comprehended as concentration gradients in space and time (Müller, 1998). Any niche gradient is a peak of the fitness landscape of one environmental characteristic (Wright, 1931), which can be visualized in two-dimensional space as a graph with certain skew and width, determining the ecological amplitude. The shape of the fitness graph for certain characteristic can be plotted through the abundance of certain specimen benefitting of this characteristic. All niche gradients are situated and establish a multi-dimensional hyper-room, which axes are different environmental parameters. Thus, any learning niche in social systems is determined as a set of characteristics that people perceive and actualize as useful for their activities and wellbeing individually or in groups. Each niche gradient defines one dimension of the space. The fundamental niche term applies for all the possibly usable software tools and services, artifacts and people, while the realized niches form under the constrained conditions of resource availability.

In the elaborated framework of ecological learning i support the idea that affordances are the perceived possibilities for both thinking and doing, what learners evoke and signify during their actual interaction with an artifact or tool and with each other. People determine the personal learning affordances when using their personal learning space (personal learning environment). Hence, the learning affordance descriptions involve the learning action verbs, people who are involved in action, and mediators of actions (various tools, services and artifacts). Any individual conceptualizes learning affordances personally, but the range of similar learning affordance conceptualizations may be clustered into more general affordance groups. These collaboratively accumulated affordance clusters may be interpreted and used as the abstract learning niche gradients. The affordances as niche gradients are socially developed. Using the affordance conception for defining learning space dimensions for the communities, we can bring the emergent ecological properties from the individual level to the new structural level that is niches in the ecologies.

Bardone uses niche term from the individual’s viewpoint and for the community level he has applied sometimes ambient intelligence or smart environment.

AmI can be considered a form of cognitive niche enrichment. Ambient Intelligence adds up a new layer to the traditional ways of disembodying the mind: Ambient Intelligence basically puts those sophisticated and smart devices – mimicking our mind – into our environments. In doing so even our familiar objects may embed high-level computing power [Cook & Das, 2007].

Collecting such an amount of data – and aggregating it – allows smart environments to provide us with feedbacks that exhibit a degree of adaptability that cannot be compared with any other traditional environment or cognitive niche.

HOWEVER, CAN we REALLY SAY THIS INDIVIDUAL DISTRIBUTED COGNITIVE SPACE IS A NICHE? (i am a bit worried of the concept use in individual terms).

AND, CAN we EXPLAIN HOW THE DISEMBODIED EXTERNALIZED PART OF individual COGNITIVE SPACE (part of your eco-cognitive niche) WOULD INTERACT WITH THAT WHAT I CALL NICHE (for communities/cultures) AND Brdone CALLs THE SMART ENVIRONMENT OR AMBIENT INTELLIGENCE? It is clear that for adaptability to culture each individual would need another adaptation, fitness to the COMMUNITY culture and its NICHE.


The other aspect that we discussed was his idea how human beings overcome their internal limitations by (1) disembodying thoughts and then (2) re-projecting internally that occurring outside to find new ways of thinking. He explained that the internal representation as a cognitive structure is kind of bounded, fixed (constraints) whereas the external representation allows to bring into internal representations new elements (chances). For me this explanation of fixed internal cognitive structures was not convincing. I tend to believe that in the moment of any action the internal and external representations could be considered as one distributed mediation system.
It seems that humans extend themselves in the moment of action integrating temporally some features that they perceive in the environment to their cognitive perception of their body. For example other people, some “tools”, some language concepts, some artifacts could be perceived as chances. This coupling possibility itself could be memorized and reused as personal or cultural preference the next time people plan actions. If that features would be available culturally and in the environment these may sharpen persons’ attention and trigger them to extend certain cognitive resources similar way as they had already used them as mediators. Maybe the time of our discussion was too limited to be aware of how this cognitive embodying-disembodying takes place in his theory.

The basic principles in Bardone’s theory are:

Human cognition is chance-seeking system that is developed within an evolutionary framework based on the notion of cognitive niche construction.

Humans are powerful eco-cognitive engineers.

Humans do not hold a complete internal representation of the environment; but they use the environment itself as a model insofar as they can immediately access it in terms of those action capabilities, which emerge in the interplay between humans and their environment.

Humans use the environment itself as a representation by manipulating and even creating it so as to find room for new cognitive chances not immediately available.

Humans turn environmental constraints into ecological chances when facing the challenges posed by the environment itself.

Decision making activities (and the way to obtain successful results) derive from the way individuals interact with the environment;
This interaction involves internal and external resources, and the way they are represented;
This process is dynamic, in the sense that cognitive capabilities depend on the exploitation of external resources and on their representation (time and way of modifying the interaction);
Interaction and dynamics imply uncertainty and complexity, in terms of difficulties deciphering between internal and external influences;
The “smart interplay” between the two is not limited to computational capabilities and, even if we narrowly focus on them, they are not only internal, but depend from the “smart interplay” itself;
Thus, our computational capabilities (or rationality la Simon) are not limited, since bounds depend on the “smart interplay” between internal and external resources and, moreover, the result of the decisionmaking process is embedded in the way the broad cognitive system employs, represents, and acknowledges external resources.

Humans constantly delegate cognitive functions to the environment: (Zhang, 1997; Gatti and Magnani, 2005; Knuuttila and Honkela, 2005) argue that the traditional notion of representation as a kind of abstract mental structure is misleading.

Internal representation does not mirror the entire representational task, because it is only a part of it.

External representations can be considered as “tacit procedures” (Polanyi, 1966) that emerge from, and are prompted by, the interaction (coupling) between humans and the environment.

If some cognitive performances can be viewed as the result of a smart interplay between humans and the environment, the representation of a problem is partly internal but it also depends on the smart interplay between the individual and the environment.

Human cognitive behavior consists in acting upon those anchors which we have secured a cognitive function to via cognitive niche construction. And those anchors are basically affordances.
Affordances can be related to the variable (degree of) abductivity of a configuration of signs.

Humans have at their disposal a standard or pre-wired endowment of affordances, but at the same time they can extend and modify the range of what can afford them through the development of appropriate cognitive abductive skills.

For making plasticity work is to turn environmental constraints into ecological chances.

We build and manipulate cognitive niches so as to unearth additional resources for behavior control. This activity of eco-cognitive engineering is basically what describes the most our idea of learning as an ecological task.

Basically, human beings overcome their internal limitations by (1) disembodying thoughts and then (2) re-projecting internally that occurring outside to find new ways of thinking.

Ecological approach aims at understanding cognitive systems in terms of their environmental situatedness (Clancey, 1997; Magnani, 2005). Within this framework, chances are that “information” which is not stored internally in memory or already available in an external reserve but that has to be “extracted” and then picked up upon occasion. This process of environmental selection (Odling-Smee, 1988) allows living creatures to build and shape the “ecological niches”.

Based on his thesis, Emanuele Bardone is currently writing the book:
Seeking Chances: From Biased Rationality to Distributed Cognition

External structures, which ultimately are meshed into our cognitive niches, exhibit what we may call a cognitive (semiotic) agency. That is, once externalized and secured to external supports, ideas, thoughts, and even intentions, cease to be what they originally meant to be. They acquire a public status; that means they go under a process of negotiation, which eventually leads to conventionalization and/or entrenchment [Tyl´en, 2007]. This can be viewed also as an hybridization process, which not only regards human beings and their surroundings, but also those objects and artefacts that enter the cognitive niche. Secondly, human externalizations become part of the so-called eco-cognitive inheritance and, therefore, being subjected to further modifications and exploitations insofar as they can be also the basis for the creation and development of additional eco-cognitive capabilities.

The neurological counterpart of this process is a process of brain re-configuration and re-organization – a rehearsed recapitulation – which allows our brain to disentangle itself from the perception-action cycle typical of the on-line thinking [Magnani, 2009].

We will discuss the case of Ambient Intelligence as a case of cognitive niche enrichment. We
will claim AmI can be considered a form of cognitive niche enrichment. Ambient Intelligence adds up a new layer to the traditional ways of disembodying the mind: Ambient Intelligence basically puts those sophisticated and smart devices – mimicking our mind – into our environments. In doing so even our familiar objects may embed high-level computing power. More generally, we argue that Ambient intelligence deals not only with reproducing some kinds of sophisticated human cognitive performances, but also with paying attention on an eco-cognitive dimension of computing – what is called context-aware computing [Cook & Das, 2007].

Collecting such an amount of data – and aggregating it – allows smart environments to provide us with feedbacks that exhibit a degree of adaptability that cannot be compared with any other traditional environment or cognitive niche.

Ambient Intelligence can be surely considered one of the most sophisticated ways humans have invented to distribute cognitive functions to external objects. In this case, the massive cognitive delegation contributes to a radical re-distribution of the cognitive load humans have subjected to. Basically, Ambient Intelligence improves people’s experience in their environments [Cook & Das, 2007].

Adapting affordances are those affordances that help the agent exploit latent environmental possibilities providing additional clues.

Simon’s statement can be fruitfully interpreted that way: humans overcame the limits of their bounded cognitive system by delegating cognitive functions to the environment. Suggestions, recommendations, and the like are all external resources that are socially available, and that indeed contribute to lessening various limitations.