Physical symbol systems

Cognitive Science 4 (2):135-83 (1980)
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On the occasion of a first conference on Cognitive Science, it seems appropriate to review the basis of common understanding between the various disciplines. In my estimate, the most fundamental contribution so far of artificial intelligence and computer science to the joint enterprise of cognitive science has been the notion of a physical symbol system, i.e., the concept of a broad class of systems capable of having and manipulating symbols, yet realizable in the physical universe. The notion of symbol so defined is internal to this concept, so it becomes a hypothesis that this notion of symbols includes the symbols that we humans use every day of our lives. In this paper we attempt systematically, but plainly, to lay out the nature of physical symbol systems. Such a review is in ways familiar, but not thereby useless. Restatement of fundamentals is an important exercise.



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