Rote instruments consist of large numbers of a few types of basic components, each of which performs a rather simple task. The accomplishment of complex tasks is possible through intricate interconnections (programming) between the components. The important principles of operation reside in the program, and by changing the program the instrument can be put to different uses. New problems can be approached in a straightforward, intellectual, bureaucratic, "systems", manner. The solutions will be elementaristic and often a bit clumsy.What started me on my post of yesterday was the observation that it looks to me at least as though the mechanisms of lateral inhibition in the retina (setting aside whether they are information processors or analogue computing devices) have most of the characteristics of rote mechanisms. (The last two sentences probably do not, however, describe the retinal mechanisms of lateral inhibition.) And, perhaps they are "specialized" for just lateral inhibition.
Smart instruments are specialized on a particular (type of) task in a particular (type of) situation and capitalize on the peculiarities of the situation and the task, i.e. use shortcuts, etc. They consist of few but specialized components. For solving problems which are repeated very often, smart instruments, if they exist, are more efficient and more economical. They are also likely to be more reliable and durable. Solution of a new problem requires the invention of a new instrument. A straightforward and bureaucratic procedure is not likely to achieve that, since the task is creative and just as much intuitive as intellectual. (Runeson, 1977, pp. 173-4).
I haven't had time to look into these examples, but if I had the time I would look at:
1) The neural circuitry for the vestibulo-ocular reflex would be a rote mechanism that is also smart. Rote, but "specialized" for stabilizing images on the retina during head motions. The VOR might be especially good as it might be adjustable to accommodate changes in head size during growth.
2) Spinal reflex circuitry. Perhaps that is rote, but "specialized".
3) Neural circuits in area V4. Perhaps they are rote mechanisms, but "specialized" for color processing. (Pick any of the regions of visual cortex for that matter.)
4) Regions of motor cortex. Perhaps rote, but specialized for initiating/controlling finger movements.
Andrew kind of invited this post when asking for an example of a wondrous sort of device that could be both rote and specialized, so I hard to pick the computer example to avoid trampling over today's post.
But, again, all of this depends on what is meant by being "specialized".