Talk: The role of engineering in recent cognitive science

I’ve been invited to give a talk for a seminar series at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). The talk is scheduled to happen on the 19th of March at 14:00. Title and abstract below:

The role of engineering in recent cognitive science

For most of the history of cognitive science the practices of hardware engineering and scientific inquiry have been closely intertwined: designing and building robots was a central part of the field’s scientific process. By building robots according to how the mind (supposedly) works, engineering provided cognitive science with the opportunity to validate its hypotheses empirically, and to adjust its theories if substantial practical difficulties arose (e.g. the shift from symbolic A.I. to situated robotics). In this manner the engineered product was not only a tool for – but also itself a target of – scientific research.

Nevertheless, nowadays there is a larger split between these two practices. Robotics is mainly focused on practical applications, while its original scientific role has largely been replaced by software simulations. For if it is easier and cheaper to simulate the system than to construct it physically, and if this lack of physicality does not negatively impact on the scientific questions which need to be answered, then why not use a simulation model? Nevertheless, in one growing area of cognitive science, namely sensory augmentation research, the role of hardware engineering is indispensable. Here the design of appropriate physical interfaces and devices can help cognitive scientists to probe the underlying mechanisms of the human mind in ways that would otherwise be inaccessible.

We present recent work in this area based on the Enactive Torch, a collaborative project between the CCNR and Adam Spiers of BRL.


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