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Chinese Room Essay, Research Paper

Through the use of his famous Chinese room scenario, John R. Searle tries to prove there is no way artificial intelligence can exist. This means that machines do not posses minds.

The debate between those who are in favor of strong and weak artificial intelligence (AI) is directly related to the philosophy of mind. The claim of weak AI is that it is possible to run a program on a machine, which will behave as if it were a thinking thing. Believers of strong AI say that it is possible to create a program running on a machine which not only behaves as if it were thinking, but does actually think. Strong AI followers argue that an installation of a computer program is considered a mind as real as the mind of any human.

Searle’s claim is that any installation of a program is an operation. The lack of meaning, he states, means that the computer program does not have true understanding and is not truly thinking, it is simply computing and processing symbols. He presents this argument by using his famous Chinese room. Searle begins by talking about a newer computer program written by Roger Schank, which he uses to answer, or at least try to answer, questions about a problem it has been given. Searle remarks that this choice of program is not directly relevant to his argument, but is merely an example. He then suggests that instead of running the program on a machine, that it can be represented as a series of written instructions that he could follow. To make sure he is following the instructions, everything is expressed in Chinese, since Searle did not know the language.

The complete situation has Searle in a room where Chinese symbols are passed through one slot of the room along with English instructions on how to read them. He then computes them and passes out the meanings through the second slot in the room. Searle’s actions resemble Schank’s program. The input is the Chinese and instructions, and the output is the translated story. Since he is the installation of the computer program, it shows the reader how other installations, such as a program running on a machine, must lack the same understanding of Chinese and of the stories as he does.

The Chinese room offers a good starting point for thinking about the claims of strong AI, but it does not completely prove they are false. It is not at all surprising that Searle running the program does not show understanding of Chinese since the program, in any of its installations, never seems to understand it in the first place. The program was only a simple story, which could give answers to certain questions, but also made no attempt to ever really understand the story. Searle shows no proof that his theory can pass the Turing test.

If the program were really able to pass the Turing test, Searle’s scenario would be different than the program. A machine may take a fraction of the time to compute a problem compared to the length of time Searle would need to complete the same thing. The main thing to keep in mind here is that Searle stated in his first example that it is clear he has no understanding of Chinese. In reality, the actions of Searle must be complex. Searle avoids any comeback remarks that the robot may have. It claims that Searle has no understanding of Chinese, whereas the machine, when considered a whole, does. The robot argues that if the program were installed in the machine, it would be able to carry out true understanding of it.

The Chinese room example neither disproves the claims of AI, nor does it prove that Searle’s conclusions cannot be drawn from a different argument. He is still fixed upon his view. He still believes that the installation of a program alone can never be enough to generate true understanding. The Chinese room leaves any support to this view up for grabs. I think machine don’t have minds. They are only as smart as the person who programs them, though they may be able to calculate tasks at a faster rate. The only type of mind a machine has is a human-implied mind given to it from the creator of the program.


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