Artificial Intelligence: Cognitive Ability or Information Processing
Computers have become an integral part of our everyday lives. We rely upon these machines to perform innumerable tasks that we often take for granted. Most people realize that computers are able to perform the multitude of functions as a consequence of the programming they receive. These programs give computers a set of instructions that governs their transition from one information processing state to another. Thus, computational machines are able to respond to a certain set of inputs with a certain range of outputs.
In order to comprehend programs one needs only to describe these instructions in functional terms. In this regard, computer programs are extremely similar to functional accounts of the human mind, which contend that in order to understand the mind, one must simply examine the relationship between stimulus and behavior. Consequently, the question has naturally arisen as to whether a computer which consisted of a sufficiently sophisticated program would be capable of thought. This question has resulted in lively debate, with one camp of people including John R. Searle emphatically denying the plausibility of Artificial Intelligence. On the other side of the debate, individuals such as Paul and Patricia Churchland have declared that although a serial machine with a program might not be able to think, Artificial Intelligence might be feasible in parallel processing computers.
In Is the Brains Mind a Computer Program, John R. Searle presents an interesting argument against strong artificial intelligence proponents. Believers of strong artificial intelligence contend that a computer that can pass the Turing test is displaying cognitive ability. The Turing test basically states that if a computer can function in such a way that an expert can not distinguish its performance from that of a human who has a certain cognitive ability, such as the ability to understand a language, then the computer also has that ability. Proponents of weak artificial intelligence have a much less forceful view which states that if a computer can pass the Turing test it is merely a successful model of the mind. In his essay, it is the strong AI proponents whom Searle is critiquing.
Searles argument against artificial intelligence can essentially be summed up in three simple statements: (1) Computer programs are formal/syntactic (2) Human minds have mental contents or semantics (3) Syntax by itself is neither constitutive of nor sufficient for semantics. From these three statements Searle concludes that, Programs are neither constitutive of nor sufficient for minds.
In order to illustrate his argument, Searle then utilizes the so called Chinese room argument. The Chinese room simulation commences with a person who has no knowledge of the Chinese language. This person is then placed into a room containing baskets full of Chinese symbols. In addition, this individual is provided with a rule book (in a language which he or she presumably understands) for matching Chinese symbols with other Chinese symbols.
The rules identify these characters solely in terms of their shapes and do not require any comprehension of them. The argument then asks that you imagine that there are people outside the room who understand Chinese and who hand this person symbols which pose certain questions. In response, this person manipulates these symbols according to the provided rule book, and hands back certain symbols. The symbols that this individual returns, unknown to the person inside the room, are answers to the questions which these native Chinese speakers are posing. Furthermore, this rule book makes this persons answers indistinguishable from a native Chinese speakers. Hence, this individual would be able to satisfy the Turing test for comprehension of the Chinese language, although he does not actually have any understanding of the language.
Searle then makes the analogy between the rule book and a computer program, the person and the computer, and the symbols and a computers data base to decisively demonstrate that symbol manipulating devices are not enough for cognition.
In Searles opinion, computers can never be minds because they are inherently different from brains. He argues that brains do not merely instantiate a program but also cause mental events by virtue of specific neuro – biological processes. Searle is essentially making the contention .