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Can Computers Understand? Essay, Research Paper

Can Computers understand?

1) Thinking is the hallmark of understanding.

2) Only special machines can think.

3) If something can think it can understand.

4) Only special machines that can think can understand.

5) “Mental” states and their resulting actions are products of the

center of activity (brain).

6) To understand, thoughts must be produced by the brain.

7) A computer’s mental states and events are controlled by a program.

8) The program is not a product of the computer.

9) A computer does not produce “thoughts” in its brain.

10) A computer cannot understand.

John Searle addresses the point of the ability of Artificial

Intelligence (AI) to understand, in Mind Brains, and Programs. His main

argument is that because AI’s are computers and computers have no thoughts of

their own, they cannot understand. Any actions being performed to simulate

behavior are confined by the programs available to the computer. He presents

the example of a man linking Chinese characters and appearing to know the

language, but in reality the man is just following the instructions given to him

( the program). This example serves well to explain how although a computer can

look like it understands a story, it can do no more than “go through the


Of course such a definitive standpoint on an issue as controversial as

the capacity of an AI to understand will draw many critics. The criticism of

his theory that I find to be the most credible is The Other Mind Reply offered

by Yale University. This line of thinking asks: if behavior is what we can

determine the presence of cognition through, and an AI passes a behavioral test,

why don’t we attribute cognition to it?

I myself do not believe in the philosophy of AI understanding, because

to support either side on this issue one must have a belief for or against the

ability of man to create another being capable of thought. I do not believe

that any machine based creature we may ever create has the ability to think.

Thought is something that is independently done and cannot be given to another,

or more accurately, programmed in. Regardless of however many tests that may be

passed simulating thought and understanding, a programmed being is not capable

of thought and understanding.

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