Thinking Happens in a Medium

AEC software industry discourse needs to move in this direction:

What is the nature of thinking? Both for human cognition, and in the field of cognitive computing, artificial cognition, what is cognition? Of course no one knows what cognition is, or how it works, but there are things we can observe about it. And, specifically, a set of observations that seem pertinent:

Data, or information, is not enough. Understanding is what matters. And understanding seems to follow from, or is rooted in, an ability to sort through all of the available data, and narrow down, by some means or another, to what matters, and to articulate this narrowed focus, with some kind of intensity that makes it resonant. This is oft referred to as “putting one’s finger on the essence of a situation”.

The architecture, engineering, and construction industry is uniquely worthy of study in regard to cognition, because of the usage in these professions, of quite tangible media that well represent both of the following:

  • the phenomena of the wide expanse of environmental information (a flood of information all around), and,
  • the deliberate act of narrowing down within that environment to that which matters (more) and the articulation of that narrowed focus with intensity.

There is some kind of interplay, between the wide whole of an environment, and our act of narrowing down to things that we can articulate with some kind of intensity. And it is in this interplay — between the wide and the narrow, in some kind of oscillating dance between them — that thinking happens and understanding grows.

New forms of digital media, now nascent, may amplify and strengthen this interplay, and thereby provide a medium more fertile for the development of thought and understanding. This is important for human cognition. We can develop a medium that is more responsive to human beings, more conversant with us, wherever we are engaged in thinking about complex information.

Just as models and drawings are conversant with us in our process of thinking, and are expressions of our thoughts, new forms of media — that are designed in recognition of the distinctive characteristics of now familiar media (drawing, modeling), exploring the possibility of building on and strengthening those characteristics — may be expected to become more conversant with us in our process of thinking, understanding, and communicating.

This should be the primary goal of software companies in in the AEC industry and in other similar industries dealing with complex information, complex environments, and the urgent need for clear understanding.

However, such new media (and the possibilities for it are real and present) — when well used by human thinkers who infuse it with events of human narrowing focus articulated with intensity within the wider expanse of an information environment — will contribute also in the field of cognitive computing. Machine systems that “think”, immersed in such an environment, will find it fertile ground, rich with cross-data type detectable correlation, and perhaps maybe begin to engage in what we know to be this mysterious interplay, this oscillating dance between the wide and the narrow, between the expansive whole of an information environment, and the act of narrowed focusing intensity, and in this engagement, something, we don’t know what, may happen.

But short of crossing over the threshold into this mystery called thinking, cognitive systems will simply find such media environments rich with connectivity and correlation, and in parsing them will provide certain utility to humans in query and sense-making, through human-machine dialog about the meaning of information in very complex environments.


See our Summer Update Tangerine 2016, for more discussion.

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