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John Searle's Chinese Argument

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John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument When coming up with the ‘Chinese Room’ argument, John Searle was looking to establish whether or not machines can be termed as “intelligent” judging by the kind of accurate outputs they produce, given a specific kind of input. He specifically aimed at refuting the functionalism claim that, just like people, machines with the ability to run programs are presumed to have consciousness and a brain. In Searle’s argument, he creates a scenario where one is locked in a Chinese room without any knowledge of the Chinese dialect but is expected to answer questions in Chinese. As per his theory, an English-Chinese guide would allow one to answer the questions accurately but not understand the conversation. In relation to this, John Searle concludes that a computer has no ability to understand or achieve consciousness no matter how intelligent the underlying computer program might be. According to the argument, a human being with no knowledge of the Chinese language is locked in a room. He is issued a set of English guidelines that help him relate each set of Chinese symbols to another set. Basically, the rules are to guide the individual on how to use the Chinese characters to answer the questions brought forward. At the end of the process, the Chinese illiterate will be in a position to write down Chinese answers to the questions, which are also in Chinese. To those that posed the question, the individual will seem to have proper understanding of the Chinese dialect; both oral and written. However, the fact is that the individual has no comprehension of the entire dialogue. All he has done is correlate the symbols to a matching set of symbols based on the given English guidelines. Similarly, it cannot be said that a computer has a ‘brain’ of its own based on the fact that a program assists it in carrying out specific intellectual tasks. Just as the individual does not understand the Chinese symbols even after answering the questions, so does the computer, regardless of how intelligent it might seem. The English guidelines in the ‘Chinese room’ scenario represent the program that guides the computer in achieving the desired output. Were it not for the program, the computer could not process information. Basically, the computer is an instantiation of the underlying program. Consequently, John Searle’s prime objection was against the ‘strong Al’ philosophical ideology. “Al” in this case stood for “artificial intelligence”. As per this position, a computer or any computerized machine is more than just a tool of study for the mind. According to strong Al arguments, the computer is a brain in its own capacity given the fact that it is said to hold various cognitive states if it uses the appropriate programs. One of the key states in this regard is the ability to understand. However, based on Searle’s ‘Chinese room’ argument, there are no sufficient grounds to claim that the computer understands what it processes under the guide of a program. In both scenarios, Chinese room and computer programs, there is no understanding. The two simply follow standard formal principles so as to achieve the desired output. In conclusion, understanding refers majorly to the possession of specific intentional states of the mind. Seeing that computers only function based on guidelines availed by respective programs, no form of intentionality is exhibited. In order for one to have understanding, as well as other states of mind, the internalizing of certain validity levels has to come from within and directed towards specific state of affairs or objects. This brings about the whole aspect of intentionality in understanding, which computers lack in. Hence, computers do not have consciousness, understanding or any cognitive mental state.

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