The Reappearing Tool: Transparency, Smart Technology, and the Extended Mind



Wheeler M (2019) The Reappearing Tool: Transparency, Smart Technology, and the Extended Mind. AI and Society, 34 (4), pp. 857-866.

Some thinkers have claimed that expert performance with technology is characterized by a kind of disappearance of that technology from conscious experience, that is, by the transparency of the tools and equipment through which we sense and manipulate the world. This is a claim that may be traced to phenomenological philosophers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, but it has been influential in user interface design where the transparency of technology has often been adopted as a mark of good design. Moreover, in the philosophy of cognitive science, such transparency has been advanced as necessary for extended cognition (the situation in which the technology with which we couple genuinely counts as a constitutive part of our cognitive machinery, along with our brains). By reflecting on concrete examples of our contemporary engagement with technology, I shall argue that the epistemic challenges posed by smart artefacts (those that come equipped with artificial-intelligencebased applications) should prompt a reassessment of the drive for transparency in the design of some cases of technology-involving cognition. This has consequences for the place of extended minds in the contemporary technological context.

artificial intelligence; extended cognition; user interface design; skilled tool use; phenomenological transparency

AI and Society: Volume 34, Issue 4

Publication date31/12/2019
Publication date online07/02/2018
Date accepted by journal20/09/2017

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Professor Michael Wheeler

Professor Michael Wheeler

Professor, Philosophy