Cognitive technology is an increasingly important form of technology that can deal with meaning by either replicating or simulating human cognition. Cognitive technology can make use of information technology, but it strives to go beyond mere information processing by recognizing, changing, and creating meaning. This presents us with a two-sided challenge: On the one hand, cognitive technology is challenged to “understand” meaning in ordinary language. And on the other, it challenges us to rethink fundamental questions of human cognition and sense-making. Both challenges demand a better understanding of the difference between the technical transformation of symbols and the understanding of meaning in the ordinary sense.
After explaining the topic in relation to both the insights and the limitations of the reflections by Turing, Searle, and Heidegger, this paper primarily builds on Wittgenstein’s contributions to a better understanding of the difference between two conceptions of meaning and their implications for technical replication and simulation. The paper shows that Wittgenstein developed his early calculus account of meaning into that of language games and that language games not only come in many different varieties, but are also much more flexible than calculi. Of particular interest will be the difference between rigid and creative rule-following. Creative rule-following involves an intricate interplay of very different bodily, mental, and cultural constituents, so that its simulation is not merely a technical problem but also requires clarification of a number of profound philosophical questions. It will become clear that the challenge of cognitive technology shows up at unexpected places and that is much bigger than usually assumed.