The epistemology and ontology of human-computer interaction

Minds and Machines 15 (3-4):383-398 (2005)
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Abstract

This paper analyzes epistemological and ontological dimensions of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) through an analysis of the functions of computer systems in relation to their users. It is argued that the primary relation between humans and computer systems has historically been epistemic: computers are used as information-processing and problem-solving tools that extend human cognition, thereby creating hybrid cognitive systems consisting of a human processor and an artificial processor that process information in tandem. In this role, computer systems extend human cognition. Next, it is argued that in recent years, the epistemic relation between humans and computers has been supplemented by an ontic relation. Current computer systems are able to simulate virtual and social environments that extend the interactive possibilities found in the physical environment. This type of relationship is primarily ontic, and extends to objects and places that have a virtual ontology. Increasingly, computers are not just information devices, but portals to worlds that we inhabit. The aforementioned epistemic and ontic relationships are unique to information technology and distinguish human-computer relationships from other human-technology relationships.

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Philip Brey
University of Twente