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5. Understanding Computers and Cognition

After a decade of collaboration, Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd released their paradigm-shifting text, "Understanding Computers and Cognition." This work was a direct challenge to many of the existing paradigms in artificial intelligence. They contested the idea that reality could be fully represented through a series of rules and descriptions, then formalized into a computer system that could act upon that reality. They asserted that such projects were guided by a false pursuit of omniscience, omnipotence, and control, failing to acknowledge the complexity of reality.


Flores and Winograd placed great emphasis on action, arguing that acting involved more than mere assumptions or facts. It required interpretation, an understanding of history, and an appreciation of one's position within the environment. Drawing upon Continental philosophy and the theories of cognition developed in Chile by figures such as Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Flores and Winograd advocated for a different paradigm. They envisioned a shift toward designing interactions, facilitating coordination, and simplifying human action rather than replacing it with computer-generated action.

Watch Terry Winograd reflect on his intellectual trajectory

Their novel approach amplified the drive toward human-computer interaction, which became a dominant paradigm in the 1990s. This paradigm, in turn, significantly influenced a number of projects, including Google, that have flourished in Silicon Valley.

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