The cognitive agent: Overcoming informational limits

Adaptive Behavior 19 (2):83-100 (2011)
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This article provides an answer to the question: What is the function of cognition? By answering this question it becomes possible to investigate what are the simplest cognitive systems. It addresses the question by treating cognition as a solution to a design problem. It defines a nested sequence of design problems: (1) How can a system persist? (2) How can a system affect its environment to improve its persistence? (3) How can a system utilize better information from the environment to select better actions? And, (4) How can a system reduce its inherent informational limitations to achieve more successful behavior? This provides a corresponding nested sequence of system classes: (1) autonomous systems, (2) (re)active autonomous systems, (3) informationally controlled autonomous systems (autonomous agents), and (4) cognitive systems. This article provides the following characterization of cognition: The cognitive system is the set of mechanisms of an autonomous agent that (1) allow increase of the correlation and integration between the environment and the information system of the agent, so that (2) the agent can improve the selection of actions and thereby produce more successful behavior. Finally, it shows that common cognitive capacities satisfy the characterization: learning, memory, representation, decision making, reasoning, attention, and communication.

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Orlin Vakarelov
Duke University


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