The Cognitive Transformation of AI-assisted Interfaces

Historically, lasting cognitive technologies have been invented only rarely. But modern computers are a meta-medium enabling the rapid invention of many new cognitive technologies. Consider a relatively banal example, such as Photoshop. Adept Photoshop users routinely have formerly impossible thoughts such as: “let’s apply the clone stamp to the such-and-such layer.”. That’s an instance of a more general class of thought: “computer, [new type of action] this [new type of representation for a newly imagined class of object]”. When that happens, we’re using computers to expand the range of thoughts we can think.

It’s this kind of cognitive transformation model which underlies much of the deepest work on intelligence augmentation. Rather than outsourcing cognition, it’s about changing the operations and representations we use to think; it’s about changing the substrate of thought itself. And so while cognitive outsourcing is important, this cognitive transformation view offers a much more profound model of intelligence augmentation. It’s a view in which computers are a means to change and expand human thought itself.

Fascinating idea. I was particularly inspired by the landscape drawing example from the article. I am deeply interested in the merge of AI and the Arts.

Feynman’s diagrams, Picasso’s paintings, Stravinsky’s music: all revealed genuinely new ways of making meaning. Good representations sharpen up such insights, eliding the familiar to show that which is new as vividly as possible. But because of that emphasis on unfamiliarity, the representation will seem strange: it shows relationships you’ve never seen before. In some sense, the task of the designer is to identify that core strangeness, and to amplify it as much as possible.

The idea that computes can interpret our intentions and map those to artistic representations is mind boggling. Physically painting a landscape, an artist in the future might just have an idea. The computer would then interpret the idea and create a representation much more detailed than any human ever could (and faster).

That is the kind of Intelligence augmentation this article talks about, and it is an incredible source of potential for humanity.

I had too much stuff. My machines came from too far away. — Richard Feynman Reflecting on the failure of his presentation on April 1948.

July 16, 2019


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