Ambient Intelligence as Cognitive Niche Enrichment: Foundational Issues

Ambient Intelligence as Cognitive Niche Enrichment: Foundational Issues

Lorenzo Magnani (University of Pavia, Italy) and Emanuele Bardone (University of Pavia, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-857-5.ch001
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Abstract

We will introduce some cognitive and epistemological foundational aspects related to Ambient Intelligence (AmI). We will show how three concepts which derive from the tradition of cognitive science may be of help in deepening some of the main theoretical aspects concerning Ambient Intelligence: the notion of distributed cognition, the concept of cognitive niche, and the concept of affordance. We contend that this theoretical perspective will shed new light on some of the most promising and interesting developments recently brought about by Ambient Intelligence.
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Introduction

We will introduce some cognitive and epistemological foundational aspects related to Ambient Intelligence (AmI). We will show how three concepts which derive from the tradition of cognitive science may be of help in deepening some of the main theoretical aspects concerning Ambient Intelligence: the notion of distributed cognition, the concept of cognitive niche, and the concept of affordance. We contend that this theoretical perspective will shed new light on some of the most promising and interesting developments recently brought about by Ambient Intelligence.

The main idea we are going to argue on in this paper is that Ambient Intelligence strongly favors the development of some crucial and structural aspects of human cognition, in so far as it creates – given the tremendous technological advancements in the recent decades – a new way in which humans can cognitively live their environments.

An important related aspect resorts to the emphasis on the distributed nature of human cognition. Technologies can be considered as resulting from those activities in which humans delegate cognitive functions to the environment by transforming and manipulating it. In doing so, cognition is defined as the complex network of interactions coming from the continuous interplay between humans and their environment, appropriately designed and constructed so as to meet human needs. Ambient Intelligence surely represents a novelty with respect to how humans can re-distribute and manage the cognitive resources delegated to the environment. Although massive cognitive delegations have already been successfully completed, Ambient Intelligence drastically favors the establishment of new kinds of environment which present novel theoretical and cognitive features, worthy of analysis.

We contend that, in analyzing the cognitive significance of Ambient Intelligence, the notion of cognitive niche is crucial. Such a notion would allow us to clear up possible misunderstandings about the role played by technological innovation in evolution. Besides, the notion of the cognitive niche will be of interest, as we will claim that Ambient Intelligence can be considered a new stage in the history of cognitive niche construction, given its “eco-cognitive” impact. Accordingly, we will claim AmI can be considered a form of cognitive niche enrichment.

The idea of Ambient Intelligence as a form of cognitive niche enrichment will be developed also taking advantage of the concept of affordance. By defining a cognitive niche as a set of affordances, we will point out that Ambient Intelligence provides humans with a special kind of affordances we will call adapting affordances. That is, Ambient Intelligence considered as a sophisticated cognitive niche activity structures our environments so as to populate them with devices able to adaptively meet our needs. Basically, the affordances furnished by intelligent environments display a higher degree of adaptability which cannot be exhibited by other “things” that are already present in the human cognitive niches.

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