Do socio-technical systems cognise?

Proceedings of the 2nd AISB Symposium on Computing and Philosophy (2009)
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The view that an agent’s cognitive processes sometimes include proper parts found outside the skin and skull of the agent is gaining increasing acceptance in philosophy of mind. One main empirical touchstone for this so-called active externalism is Edwin Hutchins’ theory of distributed cognition (DCog). However, the connection between DCog and active externalism is far from clear. While active externalism is one component of DCog, the theory also incorporates other related claims, which active externalists may not want to take on board. DCog implies a shift away from an organism-centred cognitive science to a focus on larger socio-technical-cum-cognitive systems. In arguing for this shift, proponents of DCog seem to accept that socio-cultural systems have some form of agency apart from the agencies of the individuals inside them. I will tentatively suggest a way in which such a notion of agency can be cashed out.
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