AI and the Extended Mind

The future of the extended mind is not a fixed destination but an ongoing journey that requires our active participation and reflection as we redefine what it means to be human in an age of artificial intelligence.

An abstract image of artifacts

Does it matter where our thinking is being done? How should we as individuals think about outsourcing more of our cognition to AI?

Daily ChatGPT users grasp how profoundly this tool has become an extension of thought. Unlike any preceding technology, Large Language Models interface so fluidly they reshape cognition itself. Our ability to “sense,” "think," "learn," "decide" and "act" no longer reside solely within biological minds but rather intertwine with this external artifact.

But how do we arrive at insights, judgments, and ideas when we outsource our thinking to ChatGPT? And if we outsource our deliberative thinking—memory, search, calculation—do we outsource more than we know? Do we relinquish more of mind than is good for us?

If you want to know the answer to the question, "where is my mind?" Andy Clark and David Chalmers offer an answer: it's not confined solely to your brain or body. Their 1998 "extended mind" thesis argues that minds can sometimes stretch beyond our biological boundary, inhabiting external objects that support thought and cognition.

The thinking self is not skull-bound. When we use environmental supports like notebooks or smartphones as aids for cognition and memory, they morph into places where our minds can make use of other places and spaces. So while we often envision minds as imprisoned by anatomy, these philosophers propose cognition has capacity to seep outward.

But policing this border between brain-based and extended cognition is difficult. Some technologies make us better thinkers as well as better performers. Others do not, even as they enhance our performance. Santa Fe Institute's David Krakauer categorizes such technologies as cognitive artifacts. They come in two types: complementary and competitive.

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