Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 261–296 | Cite as

Thinking in the Cloud: The Cognitive Incorporation of Cloud-Based Technology

  • Robert Clowes
Research Article


Technologies and artefacts have long played a role in the structure of human memory and our cognitive lives more generally. Recent years have seen an explosion in the production and use of a new regime of information technologies that might have powerful implications for our minds. Electronic-Memory (E-Memory), powerful, portable and wearable digital gadgetry and “the cloud” of ever-present data services allow us to record, store and access an ever-expanding range of information both about and of relevance to our lives. Already, for a decade we have been carrying around expansive gadgetry which allows us to collect, store and use what would have been almost unimaginable amounts of digital information only a short time ago. Now, thanks to the wireless internet adding vast processing and storage potential to the powerful portable devices which many of us carry constantly or wear, this information can be accessed and customised in an ever-greater variety of ways. How should we assess the implications of the new portable and pervasive cognitive technologies on offer? Does E-Memory and the wider panoply of cloud-enabled cognitive technologies really promise (as some see it), or threaten (as others do), a radical change to the human cognitive abilities and perhaps the very nature of our minds? If so, how are we to assess the possibilities and attempt to understand whether they offer a hopeful or dangerous turn in the human condition? This investigation is structured around four related factors of the new technology: Totality, Practical Incorporability, Autonomy and Entanglement. We use these factors to inquire into the implications of this cloud-based memory technology for our minds and our sense of self.


Extended cognition Cognitive scaffolding Cognitive penetration Cognitive augmentation Cognitive diminishment Unity of mind Epistemic possession Extended memory Cloud computing 



The author would like to acknowledge Yasemin Erden and Mark Bishop for their support and helpful comments on the original ancestor version of this paper which was presented at the 2012 AISB / IACAP World Congress. Early versions of this work were also presented to the COGS group at Sussex and benefitted from helpful comments from Margaret Boden, Ron Chrisley, Mike Beaton, Steve Torrance, Simon Bowes and Blay Whitby. The author would also like to express his graduate for the detailed comments provided by three anonymous referrees. Also to Tad Zawidzki who gave some perspicuous comments on a draft version of the paper some of which (due to timing) will have to wait for a follow up to be properly addressed.

The paper was completed thanks to personal grant SFRH / BPD / 70440 / 2010 from the Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology (FCT).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Filosofia da Nova, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e HumanasUniversidade Nova de LisboaLisbonPortugal

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