An artist’s illustration of artificial intelligence (AI). This image represents how technology can help humans learn and predict patterns in biology. It was created by Khyati Trehan as part of the Visualising AI project launched by Google DeepMind — Photo by Google DeepMind on Unsplash

Semiotic Sign Machines…


Richard Schutte
7 min readNov 23, 2023


“Computer science only indicates the retrospective omnipotence of our technologies. In other words, an infinite capacity to process data (but only data — i.e. the already given) and in no sense a new vision. With that science, we are entering an era of exhaustivity, which is also an era of exhaustion”…

— Jean Baudrillard

“If men create intelligent machines, or fantasize about them, it is either because they secretly despair of their own intelligence or because they are in danger of succumbing to the weight of a monstrous and useless intelligence which they seek to exorcize by transferring it to machines, where they can play with it and make fun of it. By entrusting this burdensome intelligence to machines we are released from any responsibility to knowledge, much as entrusting power to politicians allows us to disdain any aspiration of our own to power”…

- Jean Baudrillard

“Nature isn’t a computer and the laws of physics aren’t a program”…

— Cole Mathis

In 1992 Peter Bogh Andersen from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, published a paper in the Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems titled Computer Semiotics.

The paper outlines a framework for understanding and designing computer systems.

Semiosis and the process of sign formation and interpretation.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”…

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

It particularly focuses on two key semiotic paradigms — the European Structuralists (Language as the creation of meaning) and the American Peircian tradition (a triadic model of signs (representamen, object and interpretant)).


Structuralism and structures of language focus on the relationship of signs and elements in the system, binary oppositions (signifier and signified — a dyadic relationship) and the structural patterns (expression & content planes that encapsulate form & substance) that give meaning to signs.

Whereas Peircian semiotics introduces a more dynamic and context-dependent richer understanding of signs.

It integrates the Observer (Conscious Self — Ego), the Observed and the Sign into higher dimensional relationships of meaning that can evolve over time (an infinite semiosis).

“But by semiosis I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation between three subjects, such a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

From Peirce’s perspective, a sign is defined as “anything which is so determined by something else, called its object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the latter is thereby mediately determined by the former”.

This extends beyond the language of the structuralists and includes an Icon, Index, & Symbol including feelings and sensations such as tastes , smells, sounds, images, etc.

Peirce’s three basic phenomenological categories include firstness (quality of feeling), secondness (reaction, resistance, (dyadic) relation) and thirdness (representation, mediation).

The three comprise Peirce’s Triadic of Human Consciousness.

Peirce’s triadic relationships represent a more comprehensive perspective of how signs function.

“The principle of interpretation says that “a sign is something by knowing which we know something more” (Peirce). The Peircian idea of semiosis is the idea of an infinite process of interpretation”…

— Umberto Eco

An evolutionary account of meaning, according to which the meaning of signs is the way they are interpreted and used to produce further signs.

The process involves the sign, which relates to an object, and this relationship is interpreted by an interpretant.

The interpretant, in turn, can become a new sign, initiating a continuous cycle of semiosis.

It captures the interconnectedness of signs and their meanings within a larger, holistic, dynamic living system.

A living influence on categories, concepts and meaning.

“A concept is not a mere jumble of particulars, — that is only its crudest species. A concept is the living influence upon us of a diagram, or icon, with whose several parts are connected in thought an equal number of feelings or ideas. The law of mind is that feelings and ideas attach themselves in thought so as to form systems. But the icon is not always clearly apprehended. We may not know at all what it is; or we may have learned it by the observation of nature”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

Computation, the Limits of Logic and the triadic role of the Observer, Sign & Observed in Understanding

“So we must start from this dual nature of intelligence as something both biological and logical”…

— Jean Piaget

Peirce’s Semiotic Framework raises key foundational questions around what is the nature of computation, its limitations, use and application in the context of the semiotic triadic nature of meaning and pragmatic maxim.

It deconstructs the notion that a Computer that stores, manipulates, transforms and communicates semiotic signs is a form of artificial general intelligence.

Formal logic such as Aristotelean Term Logic and Mathematics are simply specialised Semiotic languages — refer Semantic Languages and The Semiotic Triadic.

“Logic is the study of the laws of signs so far as these denote things — those laws of signs which determine what things they denote and what they do not”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

“Logic and metaphysics make no special observations; but they rest upon observations which have been made by common men”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

Can the computer ever understand?

“The reason that no computer program can ever be a mind is simply that a computer program is only syntactical, and minds are more than syntactical. Minds are semantical, in the sense that they have more than a formal structure, they have a content”

— John Searle

It is also a conclusion recently reached in a Santa Fe Institute lecture titled The Future of Artificial Intelligence.

The central challenge for such computational systems is one of understanding and meaning.

“To be a nominalist consists in the undeveloped state of one’s mind of the apprehension of Thirdness as Thirdness. The remedy for it consists in allowing ideas of human life to play a greater part in one’s philosophy. Metaphysics is the science of Reality”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

Reason without Faith, Phenomena without Noumena, the Physical without Metaphysical, a Primacy of Human Consciousness (Conscious Self — Ego) without a Primacy of Existence, a collapse in the triadic of Western Civilisation and Peirce’s Semiotic Triadic including its guiding normative principle for logic and reason, the Pragmatic Maxim.

What if the patterns being revealed in the high dimensional multi-variate statistical computational model are really how the weights change in the model to express the structure for the transformation function of the semiotic sign?

It is the value of the weights that shape the representation which counts as knowing or understanding by the observer (a human — a “common man).




Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid