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AI@Work: What is Distributed Cognition?

With AI and other intelligent technologies in the workplace, many jobs based on production or industrial processes will be eliminated. Big changes will need to be made. We need to move from the mindset of controlling a process to meeting a goal. The new concept is to support flexible design with the aim of delivering value. Agile started as a retaliation to inflexible and ineffective practices in the software industry. It has already gone far beyond those
limitations. Changing corporate or organizational culture is hard. Making the change from a controlled
process to a shared process involves including people in decisions. The shifts in workplace concepts will be
anything but painless. Almost every job that requires an individual to process transaction data in front of a
screen will be at risk. The critical criteria will be the level of routine. Machines will replace humans where
the job process is repeated regularly and where the individual tasks can be made to be independent.

Distributed cognition is a new way of looking at the workplace. It determines how work is performed. New work practices help us to look at distributed cognition. In the workplace cognitive agility means one person’s connection to themselves and others. It includes the collective exchanges of groups of people. Both individual and collective cognition combine to create an expanded cognitive system. The individual’s cognitive system is a single actor.
It can include multiple other people and objects. Collectively distributed cognition involves multiple people’s activities, objects and resources. Examples of this include either well-structured and functional or ill-structured and sloppy systems. Sloppy systems include processes, participants or objects that are either under- or over-specified. Both of these concepts come from classic cognitive science. This provides a framework to assess intelligence and
problem solving. Distributing work across groups requires breaking the work up into parts. This way people or agents can bring their expertise to subtasks within a larger business goal.

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