Category Archives: Week 4

Interaction with cognitive artifacs

During the introductory video of “Symbolic Cognition & Cognitive Technologies”, Dr. Irvine expressed “cognitive technologies now generate accelerated technical advances through continued combinations… Now we are facing the limitations of understanding and making sense of the massive accumulation of data that we are generating”.

He also poses the question “How did we get here? What is it about human symbolic faculty and the structure of symbolic systems that help us develop cognitive technologies?”

There are specific characteristics about symbols and symbolic cognition that not only makes it a good fit for the development of cognitive technologies, but more importantly, it is the enabler of said technologies and their future advancement.

Let’s look at the GPS and how we interact with it, trying to apply the previous characteristics mentioned by Dr. Irvine and the basic principles of cognitive artifacts expressed by Michael Cole on On Cognitive Artifacts.

Screenshot of Google Maps, Georgetown University.

What makes the GPS a cognitive artifact and what kind of cognitive artifact is it? First we need to explain why was it created? why do we need to use it?

First, Cole talks about “Mediation Through Artifacts”(p. 108) to explain that human psychological processes emerged simultaneously with the behavior of modifying material objects to regulate their interactions with the world and one another. Basically, the process of making tools it’s intrinsically linked to a behavior, a way of thinking, that guides to manipulate and shape our “tools” not only to create more tools but to shape the way we communicate as a society and the way we interact with said tools.

Creating tools is the tool of tools. Cole cites C.H. Judd(p. 109) to explain in a clear way this new ‘mindset’: “[man]… does not develop more skill in the use of claws of teeth to cope with the environment. He has adopted an indirect mode of action. He uses instruments”.

Scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick (1968). It illustrates the jump in human symbolic cognition: from making tools to technology.

If we think about the GPS it is very clear that it is a cognitive technology that is the combination of previous different technologies, previous ‘artifacts’. In a way, the combinatoriality of technologies is due to our symbolic cognition in how do we produce the tools so that it is ingrained in them the possibility of improving, creating more tools, or combining with a bigger system.

Secondly, Cole talks about “Historical Development”(p. 109) and says “in addition to using and making tools, human beings arrange for the rediscovery of the already-created tools in each succeeding generation”. The GPS couldn’t exist if the technologies that are combined in its system weren’t designed in a way that would let them create new symbols, interpret them and create new systems, that ultimately allowed them to combine together as the GPS. But also, those previous technologies were designed in a way that allowed them to be improved by future generations, in order to find new ways to put them together and link them to it. He says ” becoming a cultural being and arranging for others to become cultural beings”.

Third, he mentions “Practical Activity”(p. 110): “the analysis of human psychological functions must be grounded in human’s everyday activities”. This one is very self-explanatory when it comes to the GPS. Not only do we use it and interact with it everyday, but the advances that can be made on it are solely driven by human’s everyday interactions with it. Not only it’s the driving force, it’s the purpose.

Cole also goes to divide artifacts in three levels (p.121):

Primary artifacts: those directly used in production (i.e. words, writing docs, telecommunications)

Secondary artifacts: representations of primary artifacts, they preserve and transmit modes of action and belief (i.e. recipes, norms, constitution)

Tertiary artifacts: can shape the way we see the actual world.

I believe the GPS falls in between secondary and tertiary categories. In a way the GPS it’s a representation of a primary artifact, the map, and transmit the same modes of action that a map does. But the GPS it’s more than just a map. The characteristics of the different combinatorial technologies that are part of the GPS allow for a different interaction with it, that shapes the way we see and interact with the world more profoundly than a map.

For example, we can see real-time changes in maps such as traffic, events, classification of nearby places, etc. Also it is able to re-route you taking into consideration these conditions. It is able to predict ETA depending on time of the day and previously stored information about the conditions of your route. You can also customize your interaction with it in many different ways. And let’s not forget that it has built-in functions that are more capable of self-improvement and analysis than the previous technologies combined in it.



  • Martin Irvine, Cognitive Technologies and Symbolic Cognition (from “Key Concepts in Technology” course)
  • Michael Cole, On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Connected excerpts.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dir: Stanley Kubrick, MGM, 1968. (Video extracted from youtube on 09/27/2017, link:
  • Screenshot of Google Maps, Georgetown University, taken by me.

To Inquire, to Know, to Use: How the brain works in understanding the Internet of Things

Grace Chimezie.


Hundreds of million of years of evolution have produced hundreds of thousands of species with brains, and tens of thousands with complex behavioral, perceptual, and learning abilities. Only one of these have ever wondered about its place in the world, because only one evolved with the ability to do so. The doorway to the virtual world was opened to us alone by the evolution of language, because language is not merely a mode of communication, it is also an outward expression of an unusual mode of thought, and symbolic representation.

According to Terrance Deacon (1997) by internalizing the symbolic process that underlines language, (knowing how something originated) is the best clue of knowing how it works. Hence, the only way to understand a representation or process is by considering it in the context of an information processing system. Thus, instead of simply looking for correlations between stimulus or response properties and activation, one needs to think about the brain as a system and what that system is doing to accomplish specific task representation.

Lets consider the navigation Gps as a Representation and repository of information, but representations convey information only because the appropriate processes are available. As soon we start thinking in terms of information processing systems, one realizes that common sense can’t characterize the nature of internal representations nor how they are processed.

Image 1. A navigation Gps from Reservoir road to Georgetown


How do clever people naturally interact with and think about things, whether those things are connected or not?

Scene: Now let’s consider this scenario of my cycle as a graduate student on Wednesday.

After my morning home routine, I head to the  Lauinger library and pick up a book on cognitive science by Oliveir Houde to understand deeply human evolution. I write and make a long note on my takeaways from from the book on my google drive (storage device), the notes  contain images, concepts and writings. I am at Reservoir road and decide to find my way to Car Barn and I use my mobile google GPs to navigate my way through to my 820 class.

These interactions are with things too technological or physical. Things that a connected and that compute instances of the Internet of things (IoT). by comparing these three scenes one involving the book and library, the other navigation and the third storage, we can learn a lot about how the human mind  works, and how the internet of things can work in parallel.

That’s because research shows that we “adapt the world to our perceptual capacities,” especially when we discern that this approach will be faster and more accurate than adapting our preferred thinking style to fit the world.

Image 2. A cycle of the lifestyle of a graduate student.


Often the most salient and useful hints about the underlying logic of nature’s designs are provided when unique or extreme features in two different domains are found to be correlated.


Distributed cognition

Distributed cognition provides a radical re-orientation of how to think about designs and supporting human-computer interaction. As a theory it is specifically tailored to understanding interactions among people and technologies. It is important from the outset to understand that distributed cognition refers to a perspective on all cognition, rather than a kind of cognition. Cognitive processes involve coordination between internal and external material (material or environmental) structure. Processes may be distributed through time in such a way that the products of earlier events can transform the nature of later events. In order to understand human cognitive accomplishments and to design effective human-computer interactions, it is essential that we grasp the nature of these distributions of process.

Image 3. Philosophy of mind cognitive psychology


Culture and cognition

The theory of distributed cognition is that the study of cognition is not separable from the study of culture, because agents live in complex cultural environments. This means, on the other hand, that culture emerges out of the activity of human agents in their historical contexts, as mental, material and social structures interact and on the other hand, that culture in the form of a history of material artefacts and social practices shapes cognitive processes, particularly cognitive processes that are distributed over agents, artifacts and environment. This can be seen in the behavioral activity cited in scene 1. It is a norm to see libary in modern days as a place that houses artefacts such as books and computers, because this is how the culture environment embedded in the social structures has molded me to understand.



In knowledge-intensive environments, the smartest uses of the IoT will be those that enable the ingrained capabilities of human thinking to take center stage. Our brains perform these well-rehearsed shortcuts for a reason. And the smartest technologies will model themselves in the same way. All these boils down to adaptation each generation conceiving new ways using generated language whether natured or nurtured to understand the use of the things around them. In other to understand human cognitive accomplishments and to design effective human-computer interactions, it is essential that we grasp the nature of these distributions of process.



“Deacon-Symbolic-Species-Excerpts-1-13.Pdf.” Accessed September 27, 2017.
“Hollan-Hutchins-Kirsch-Distributed-Cognition.Pdf – Google Drive.” Accessed September 27, 2017.

The Importance of the Internet as a System of Distributed Cognition

The readings this week provided a handful of extremely useful terms and concepts with which we can explore design theory and practice. While I believe them all to be of interest, I was particularly fascinated by the concept of “distributed cognition” and the implications it has on our technological landscape. The Hollins, Hutchins and Kirsch reading gave a compelling overview of the concept while applying it to various technological platforms and instantiations. Where I see it most clearly is in the use of the internet.

What I find interesting about distributed cognition is how it expands the boundaries of pertinent cognitive interactions to our broader environment, including the resources and materials around us. This expansion has been exponentially increased by the internet allowing us to access an far broader and deeper store of information and cognitive activities than ever before. Whereas pre-internet, I may have been constrained to interactions and information in my immediate physical environment or communication technologies of the era (telephone, books, tv, radio), I can now access real-time information from across the world in a fundamentally interactive way. The global community that has sprung up in the wake of the internet has undoubtedly had an effect on our cognitive processes and worldviews, which is the central idea of the theory of “distributed cognition”.

The networking of computers (and minds) that has been unlocked by this technology has had, and will continue to have, radical implications on how we conceptualize and interact with our socio-technological foundations and cognitive environment. I’m excited to see the Human-Computer Interaction implications of an entire generation growing up with such ubiquitous and immediate coordination of ideas and cognitive activities.


  1. James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 174-196.

Rally Sports Challenge : Cognitive Artefact and the External Symbol Storage

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together – until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.


you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it – his ghost still rolls around the track today.

and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and…

i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.


This is a story I read online a few years ago, and I find it a fine example helping me to understand media technologies as “symbolic-cognitive artefacts”, as well as how do video games, creating a virtual reality world, serves as an “external symbolic storage”, and constructs to the “symbolic material culture” [2].

According to Norman’s “Cognitive Artefacts”, this story can be examined from the system view as well as the personal view [3].

The system view sees the total structure of the person and the artefact together in accomplishing a task [3]. As Renfrew points out, indicators of thoughts take form of visual symbols (artefacts). As components of the material culture, they are reflective and constitutive to the cognitive categories [2]. Rally Sports Challenge, or video games in general, creates a virtual reality world for its players. As a kind of cognitive artefacts, video game serves the representational function as a community where people of similar interests could spend time together, communicate and entertain, even though normally the game itself cannot bring any material reward to the player. The meaning of video games is not the software itself, but a platform where people, through their interactions, could develop meanings and form collective memories. It could also be seen by Cole’s definition of “tertiary world”, that “constitute an arena of non-practical but come to colour the way we see the “actual” world, providing a tool for changing current praxis [4]”.

The personal view focuses more on how the artefact has affected the task to be performed [3]. In this case, it is how this particular game, has become a unique symbol of memory for the boy.  It has a dual material-conceptual nature. On the material level, it is a group of code carrying the record of the fastest player in this game, and on the conceptual level, it carries a cognitive task and forms an “external symbol [5]”, loading the father’s willingness  to accompany and take care of the boy even after he has passed away. Thus the memory of the boy playing games with his father is given an material form out of the brain, the ghost player is a symbol bearing the weight of parental love. From that point on, some new and exclusive meanings are created beyond the original intention of the game (entertaining), symbolizing a deeper bond between the father and the son even when the father is not there anymore. This also reflects Renfrew’s point of human as symbolic species: the roles of artefacts are practical as well as symbolic, and based on the interactions with the existing artefacts, we are enabled to further develop meanings [5].

To end this post, I would like to think about where technology and artefact design should lead us to. As Norman points out, artificial device enhances human cognitive capabilities [3]. It helps us to develop through a co-evolution of human brain and the external world. For me the story is a special one, as it to some extent reveals the humane care in technology. In my point of view this is an important notion to be combined in the design process, as when our performance is enhanced by artefacts, this notion would keep us in a better linked community to create collective and cultural memories, and also helps us to know our standpoints better in the process of development.


[1] Torchinsky, Jason. “Son Finds His Late Dad’s ‘Ghost’ In A Racing Video Game.” Jalopnik. Accessed September 27, 2017.

[2] Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

[3] Donald A. Norman, “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.

[4] Michael Cole, On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Connected excerpts.

[5] Colin Renfrew, “Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage.” In Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, edited by Colin Renfrew, 1-6. Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 1999.

The organized chaos of my web browser

Why are there so many tabs open on my web browser? When I’m researching a project, which I almost always am, I leave a lot of tabs open. Some of these tabs may remain open for weeks. This has been a source of extreme aggravation to people who have tried to work off my laptop through the years, or have simply looked over my shoulder and observed all the different little grey boxes stretching across the screen. Unfortunately for the blood pressures of these poor people, I will henceforth use that question as an opportunity to share my cognitive process.

(Screenshot of my browser. You can count nine different tabs in this picture, but I promise there are at least three more)

My web browser is not a mess, it’s distributed cognition

Whether I’m using Safari, Chrome, or Firefox, my browser is one of the tools I rely upon most. At this very moment, I have a tab for listening to music, four different email accounts, a library catalog search, class readings, and my notes on those readings.

“Surely,” argue people who care about my mental health, “you could at least close the email accounts. Pop-up notifications will let you know if you get a new message.” This is true, but that’s not why I leave the emails open. Each email has different responsibilities associated with it and tasks that need to be accomplished. Keeping these open, reminds me that I need to go into them later and make sure that I have completed those tasks. If I do, I get to close a tab. In this way, I’ve offloaded the organization of my responsibilities to the web browser so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything important. I’m using the space and layout of my browser as a memory aid and an organizational tool. My multitudinous browser tabs are an example of distributed cognition, where “work materials become integrated into the way people think, see, and control activities, part of the distributed system of cognitive control.” (1)

Like my email accounts, my tabs of articles shouldn’t have to remain open once I’ve read them, but having them there, since I don’t have printed copies, helps me to remember with a quick glance at their titles what each piece was about so that I can consult them quickly if needed. The not having printed copies part of this is key. I’ve remediated what was once a desk covered in stacks of papers, notebooks, and actual books into a “stack” of tabs. The “stack” simply moves horizontally across my screen instead of vertically. I’m focusing on this behaviour because, like Hollan, Hutchins and Kirsch’s example of the use of the airspeed indicator by pilots, I’m using these tabs in a way that was not necessarily intended from a system design. (2)  Norman writes, there is “the system view and the personal view,” which are different, when looking at cognitive artefacts. (3) From a system standpoint, the tabs were constructed to allow users the ability to visit a new webpage without having to leave the page they were currently on. Rather than a new window, the tab function allowed for easier navigation between different places on the internet, as the names of the pages remained at the top of screen. Referred to as tabs, this design was meant to replicate the experience of consulting neatly labeled file folders. To follow through the metaphor, things placed into a physical file folders are usually then placed in a drawer, or stored out of sight, as they are no longer in immediate use. FIle folders aren’t intended to be left in piles on a desk. By leaving, what some might call an excessive number of tabs open, I have also remediated a messy desk. No wonder many people find this stressful.

With this knowledge in mind, what would be a “neater” way for me to keep track of everything I’m working on. I don’t want to close the tabs and make it more difficult to navigate back to the right spot in the future. I don’t want to bookmark everything this would lead to an excessive number of bookmarks and a new place of mess and confusion. Maybe what I need is a virtual stack into which I can drag and drop my active webpages, keeping my main workspace “clean.” Until I find that software, I will likely continue to let my browser tabs accumulate.


(1) James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 178.

(2) James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 180.

(3) Donald A. Norman, “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, ed. John M. Carroll, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 17.

Cognitive Artefacts: Accumulating human knowledge

Norman’s article helps me have a better understanding of cognitive artefacts. Human beings are unique because we have the ability to use language and actively create artefacts. With the help of artefacts, we can not only survive in the wild world, but dominate the modern intellectual world. And those artefacts that help us provoke our thinking and enhance our cognitive ability are called cognitive artefacts, the third-level artefacts for Cole. As human intelligence is constantly progressing, new technology come out and the cognitive artefacts are improved time by time. At the same time, the new cognitive artefacts are constantly refreshing our mind and giving us more ideas. It’s actually a mutually benefit process.

As a college student, books and libraries naturally become part of our life. In my understanding, library is like a cognitive architecture, and in this integrated framework, we can see the accumulating human knowledge from ancient time to the present.

Book as cognitive artefacts

Mess in reading room (Photo from blogs)

Books as cognitive artefacts allow us to offload massive memories, information and knowledge. For example, a history student doesn’t need to remember every event in the history. When he is about to write a research paper, he could actually find books that are related to his topic in the library and use them as references. When he is going to take an exam, he could also go to the library reading books, and his performance in the exam will be improved. From the system view, books enhance human being’s memory and improve their performance. From the personal view, he, the student, completes his task. He can do a good job on his paper and exam without memorizing everything.

Understanding books and library in distributed cognition approach

The distributed cognition approach built a bridge between the “external world” and the human cognitive process, it suggests the “boundary” should be broken and human cognition not only lies in human beings, but also relates to the external social and physical environment. In a library, the books are being categorized and distributed as “literary”, “technology”, “history”, and etc. In this way, we can have a basic understanding of this. The physical environment of library enhances our cognitive understanding of books.

Cognitive artefacts are constantly processing

Now let’s see how “books” look like today.

(Photo from

Kindle, one thin, small, and portable electronic devices, can actually contain all books from a library. And from my understanding, Kindle is a meta-medium. The Kindle system is actually like a library in which you can access to previously accumulative human knowledge and media: books, journals, and pictures.

We don’t know what “books” or Kindle will look like in the future. But one thing is for sure, as long as human intelligence is developing, the design of “books” will become more advanced and more comprehensive as a continuum of accumulating human knowledge.


Cole,Michael  On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Connected excerpts.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies. Retrieved from:

Norman, A. Donald  “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.

How we use GPS

In the long history of development, human beings became so different with animals by using the tools. But things has changed when man are not just creating usages for their own good, to survive the environment, but when he/she gets to learn how to use the tool or borrow it from his/ her family. The tools enhance people’s ability to perform tasks, from the systems view. Then, with more and more cognition of things being invented around us, we may abstract concepts, we have the symbolic artefacts, then we have abstraction layers, the more we know, the higher layer we got, the more efficient we become as learning or gain information. With the external symbolic storage, we can learn with higher efficiency, it is an effective teaching tool. We human get to learn, the cognition is not only in our mind, but distributed in the culture, society, media and so on.

Take the GPS as an example.

When we use the GPS to lead us the road, it is strengthening our performance in arriving the destination. GPS is the artifact, it changes our primary goal of get to the destination into several different tasks, and make the task easier for us to solve. We need to know how to use the GPS, that is how the distribution cognition bridge the gap. To use the GPS, you have to have cognition of everything present by the GPS.  The map is an artefact media that contain the information for you to learn the layout of the road and buildings. You have gain the cognition of the directions, left, right, north, south, from interact with other individuals in your daily life. Then you may follow the lead of the GPS, and accomplish your task.

So our cognition is mostly influenced by the culture, which is deeply the foundation of our cognition, in our mind, then the local district we are in, then the individuals around us. So I think this theory, this model can be very meaningful in the education area, to design some kind of learning environment that similar to how our brain process, if that works, it can really improve our leaning efficiency, this can mean a lot.

Sundial: a Cognitive Artifact

This week’s readings gave me more insight into the relationship between culture and technology. In his book, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline, Cole mentioned architects are the fundamental constituents of culture [I]. Wong also said that the invention of external storage of information was the watershed event in modern human behavioral evolution [II]. All of these statement point out the significance of symbols and symbolic cognition to us human beings. In this post, I’d like to talk about sundial.

What is a sundial

As Norman mentioned in his book that a cognitive artifact is an artificial device designed to maintain, display, or operate upon information in order to serve a representational function [III], sundial can be classified into cognitive artifact. It is a device designed to tell people time.

A sundial usually contains:

  • Rotating disc
  • Gnomon
  • Hour scale
  • Date scale
  • Index point
  • Latitude scale
  • Suspension ring
  • Index line

How does a sundial works

The working principle for a sundial is simple. Assuming that the sun goes around a stationary earth in a steady speed, we can say that the sun moves 360 degree everyday, i.e. 15 degree per hour. With the height of the gnomon and trigonometric functions, we can find the exact position of gnomon’s shadow on the dial at a given time. Therefore, we can tell the time from the numbers on the timeline.

Surface representations & internal representation of a sundial

According to Norman, a sundial only contains surface representations of their information, as symbols are maintained at the visible “surface” of the device. However, an icon shown in the computer screen can have more meanings instead of merely “an icon”. The icon of Recycle Bin, as an example, is in the shape of a trash bin, indicating that users can find the deleted files here. File recycling is the internal representation of this icon.

System view & personal view of a sundial

Imagine a man in ancient times who wants to know the time. He will take two steps for the answer. First, look at the dial. Second, read the number on the timeline aligned with the shadow.

In this procedure, the sundial expand the man’s capacity of telling out the time. But for the man, the sundial changed his original task of telling out the time.

According to Norman, artifacts can:

  • Distribute the actions across time;
  • Distribute the actions across people;
  • Change the actions required of the individuals doing the activity [IV].

In fact, using a sundial itself is a task for the man. He need to learn the meaning of the shadow ahead; and when he is using the sundial, he also need to remembering to find the position of the shadow, read and interpret the numbers. In this way, the original task is replaced by four different small tasks.


The solution of the problem also involves another function of cognitive artifacts, as this ancient man’s action is on the premise that he know the meaning of words and numbers on the dial. Norman once said, people are special for their ability to modify the environment in which they live through the creation of artifacts[V]. As for Russian cultural-historical scholars, they also hold the same idea:“Humans modified material objects as a means of regulating their interactions with the world and one another[VI]. In other words, these “tools” not only change human’s position from preys to conquers but their mental world. With the appearance of language, the development of human beings took a stride to an age of abstracting material into symbolic cognition. People reach a common sense of dividing the time of “one day” into 24 pieces and using “an hour” for one piece, transforming the abstract concept of time into something that is visible.



[I][VI] Michael Cole, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

[II] Kate Wong, The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture. Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

[III][IV][V] Donald A. Norman, Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

GPS Navigation as a cognitive artifact

It always reminds me of my dad when talking about GPS. My dad literally never uses a GPS navigating device wherever he goes because he says that a driver with more than 20-years driving experience has already memorized every road in the city. However, the truth is that he often chooses routes with the heaviest traffic, or being fined because of neglecting the speed limit. The readings for this week truly make me confident to persuade my dad to use GPS. Cognition is not simply generated internally like human brains. Just as the habit in using handwritten to-do list, GPS is also a good example of cognitive artifact. As Norman states, “artificial devices enhance human cognitive capabilities and make us smarter.” The involvement of cognitive artifacts in this modern era changes the way we act to accomplish tasks.

The navigating function of Google Maps in iOS

Norman defines cognitive artifact as “an artificial device designed to maintain, display, or operate upon information in order to serve a representational function”. The feature of display begins at the very first step when typing in the address of the destination. Aligned with the located departure point, it displays several optional routes to choose from, with the fastest route recommended. While the user is searching for specific categorized destination, such as nearby restaurants, it accurately filters and displays results. As the navigation starts, only one chosen route maintains on the screen till the user arrives the destination, unless the route is manually cancelled halfway. We can see the operation feature during the entire navigating process as the cursor consistently moves according to the user’s real-time location. It operates because of the emergence of updated crowding, accidents, and constructions. Moreover, once the user adds stops along the route, the navigation operates accordingly and provides routes that cover all destinations. As a cognitive artifact, Google Maps is different from other artificial devices because it has a representational function that interacts with human brains, applying and mediating what we think, memorize, into visual interfaces. It represents our cognitive artifacts which make human cognitive abilities possible, visible and even powerful.

Norman’s classification of artifacts’ system view and personal view inspires me a lot in that it indicates that Google Maps, as a cognitive artifacts, is not just a simple artificial product. It involves offloads of massive cognitive thinking that people use it as a mediation to accomplish a task. From a system view, Google Maps is like a catalyst of human memory, aggregating thinking of map and enhancing the sense of direction. It helps keep the traveling record, show where the user is currently located. It also meets the user’s demand of expectations about real-time traffic conditions. Thus, “the artifact enhances cognition”. From a personal view, using the app can be treated as a task. Without this navigation app, we have to extract routes from memory and keep in mind of various cameras on the streets that we should pay attention to. With the app, it allows us to do little about memory. At this time, new tasks are assigned to us, that we should type in the accurate destination, change settings such as voice languages or distance units, and reading the routes carefully in order to have a better drive experience.

Question – Google Maps’ cultural implication & cognition

When reading about approaches of distributed cognition, it reminds me that Google Maps brought in the game Pokemon Go feature, allowing users to catch Pokemon according to the icons showed on the map. Since Pokemon Go is a game originates from Japanese anime, with a wide spread of culture, it has a large fan base around the world. In Distributed Cognition, Hollan, Huthins and Kirsch state that the study of cognition has tight connection with cultural study. Although the cooperation allows users to play this cultural characterized game with navigation on Google Maps, I wonder that will GPS navigation gradually be effected by the cultural environment and certain group members with the continuous information flows and integrations?


Norman-Cognitive-Artifacts.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

Hollan-Hutchins-Kirsch-Distributed-Cognition.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

Perez, S. (n.d.). Google Maps Now Lets You Add A Stop Along Your Route, Check Gas Prices. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

Smith, C. (2016, July 20). Pokemon Go: Google Maps hack makes it easier than ever to find Pokemon. Retrieved September 27, 2017, from

Understanding how the human brain works, can lead to new, exiting technologies

Symbolic cognition can bridge the gap between humans and technologies, mind and language. As Colin Renfrew argues in his article, the phase of symbolic culture has undergone different phases and transitions, from Episodic culture (characteristic of primate cognition) to External Symbolic Storage  (characteristic of urban societies). Although it’s hard to really understand these transitions, one thing it’s clear: that human brain and intelligence has been evolving while adjusting to its environment, conditions and cultural background from one  historic period to another.

As seen in babies and kids, a lot of the learning process is done by frequent repetition. The more they grow up, the more you see the incorporation of logic and cognitive artifacts to regulate their interactions with the world. Cognitive artifacts, according to Cole, are simultaneously both ideal (conceptual) and material. We learn a language by studying its symbols, and we use different tools to produce material products. An example of this idea would be going from studying a language, to use that language to write books, which then are stored in libraries (physical or digital), which then we use to develop new technologies. As we see, this will always be an ongoing process, and by studying the cognitive continuum, it is important to take a step back and see how did we get where we are today, because sometimes we take technologies and tools for granted, when it is obvious that they are correlated and will always be.

By studying cognitive science we can find ways to enhance human abilities. As Norman mentions in his article, a lot of the studies has been done from contemporary cognitive science, despite the importance of discoveries of early days of psychological and anthropological investigations. Let us look at an example on how we use our brain for new technologies.

NYT, Computers are taking design cues from human brains.

On a recent article that I read on New York Times, “Chips Off the Old Block: Computers Are Taking Design Cues From Human Brains”, new technologies are testing the limits of computer semiconductors. To deal with that, researchers have gone looking for ideas from nature, hence the human brain. For a long time, computer engineers have built systems around a single chip, the CPU. Now, machines are dividing work into tiny pieces and spreading them among more simpler, specialized chips that consume less power. Companies like Microsoft are using Neural Networks to improve their products and services for their customers. Neural networks have been used on a variety of tasks and systems, including computer vision, speech recognition, machine translation, and in many other domains. Systems that rely on neural networks can learn largely on their own, meaning that the system learns by studying different patterns repeatedly, which requires a lot of trial and error, and tweaking the algorithm to improve the training data over and over. In other words, my point is that even though we are creating new exciting technologies, we still need the human brain to make it all possible.


Irvine,Martin “Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies”

Renfrew, Colin  “Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage.” In Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, edited by Colin Renfrew, 1-6. Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 1999.

Cole,Michael  On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Connected excerpts.

Norman, A. Donald  “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.

Medz, Cade  (2017, September 17). Computers are taking design cues from human brains. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from