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The Chinese Room. Philosophical vs. Empirical Questions. The kind of questions Turing considers concern what a machine could, in principle, do. Could it simulate human conversation so well that a normal human would mistake it for a person? Could it simulate altruistic behavior?

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Philosophical vs. Empirical Questions

  • The kind of questions Turing considers concern what a machine could, in principle, do.

    • Could it simulate human conversation so well that a normal human would mistake it for a person?

    • Could it simulate altruistic behavior?

    • Could it “commit suicide”—i.e. self-destruct?

  • Philosophy cannot answer these empirical questions!

    • These are questions for science, in particular computer science

  • Our question is: If a machine could do such things would it count as thinking? If a machine could perfectly simulate human behavior should we understand it as a thinking being?


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Searle Against Strong AI

  • ‘Could a machine think?’ On the argument advanced here only a machine could think, and only very special kinds of machines, namely brains and machines with internal causal powers equivalent to those of brains. And that is why strong AI has little to tell us about thinking, since it is not about machines but about programs, and no program by itself is sufficient for thinking.

  • Simulation and Duplication

    • Strong AI: The computer is not merely a tool in the study of the mind: rather, the appropriately programmed computer really is a mind

    • Computers may simulate human psychology, in the way that they may simulate weather or model economic systems but they don’t themselves have cognitive states.

  • The Turing Test is not a test for intelligence

    • Even if a program could pass the most stringent Turing Test, that wouldn’t be sufficient for its having mental states.


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Searle isn’t arguing against Physicalism!!!

‘Could a machine think?’ My own view is that only a machine could think, and indeed only very special kinds of machines, namely brains and machines that had the same causal powers as brains.

  • The problem isn’t that the machines in question are physical (rather than spiritual) but precisely that they are not physical since they are abstract:

  • Strong AI only makes sense given the dualistic assumption that, where the mind is concerned, the brain doesn’t matter. In strong AI (and in functionalism as well) what matters are programs, and programs are independent of their realization in machines…This form of dualism…insists that what is specifically mental about the mind has no intrinsic connection with the actual properties of the brain.

  • Searle is arguing against functionalism (and, a fortiori, behaviorism)

  • The Chinese Room thought-experiment is intended to show that passing the Turing Test isn’t sufficient for understanding.


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Searle isn’t concerned with “feely” mental states

  • Some mental states are “feely”: they have intrinsic qualitative character, a phenomenology, a “what it is like” to be in them.

    • If you don’t have them, you don’t know what they’re like

    • Locke’s “studious blind man” thought red was like the sound of a trumpet

  • Other mental states are not “feely” in this sense

    • Believing that 2 + 2 = 4 isn’t “like” anything

    • Referring to Obama when one utters “Obama is President of the United States” rather than just making language like noises

    • Speaking rather than just making noises as “Mind the gap” or “You have entered…one…two…three…four…five.”

  • Searle argues that machines can’t have even these non-feely mental states


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Searle passes the Turing Test…

…but Searle doesn’t understand Chinese!


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Symbol-manipulation isn’t understanding

From the external point of view…the answers to the Chinese questions and the English questions are equally good. but in the Chinese case, unlike the English case, I produce the answers by manipulating uninterpreted formal symbols…For the purposes of the Chinese, I am simply an instantiation of the computer program.

/P  [Q  (P  Q)]

1. P ACP

2. Q ACP

3. P  Q 1, 2, conj.

4. Q  (P  Q) 2 – 3, CP

5. P  [Q  (P  Q)] 1 – 4 CP

This is an example of manipulating uninterpreted formal symbols. Do you understand anything?


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Intentionality

  • Searle’s complaint is that mere rule-governed symbol-manipulation cannot generate intentionality.

  • Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs.

    • Reference is intentional in this sense: I think (and talk) about things

    • Perceptions, beliefs, desires and intentions and many other “propositional attitudes” are mental states with intentionality: they have “content”

    • Intentionality is directedness—understood by Brentano as the criterion for the mental

      Only mental states have intrinsic intentionality: other things have it only in a derivative sense to the extent that they are “directed” by intelligent beings.


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Intrinsic and Derived Intentionality

  • “Guns don’t kill—people do”

    • the directedness of a gun to a target is derived: people aim and direct them to their targets.

  • Words don’t refer—people do

  • Computers, Searle argues, don’t have intrinsic intentionality: our ascriptions of psychological states and intentional actions to them is merely metaphorical

    [F]ormal symbol manipulations by themselves don’t have any intentionality; they are quite meaningless; they aren’t even symbol manipulations, since the symbols don’t symbolize anything…Such intentionality as computers appear to have is solely in the minds of those who program them and those who use them, those who send in the input and those who interpret the output.


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The Mystery of Intentionality

  • Problem: granting that a variety of inanimate objects we use don’t have intrinsic intentionality, what does and why?

  • Can a car believe that that fuel/air mixture is too rich and adjust accordingly?

    • My (1969) Triumph Spitfire had a manual choke

    • My first Toyota Corolla had a carburetor with an automatic choke that opened up and closed on relatively simple mechanical principles

    • My new Toyota Corolla has software I don’t understand that does this stuff

  • Question: Is there some level of complexity in theprogram at which we get intrinsic intentionality?

  • Searle’s Answer: Looking in the programis looking in the wrong place.


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Intentionality: The Right Stuff

Precisely that feature of AI that seemed so appealing—the distinction between the program and the realization—proves fatal to the claim that simulation could be duplication…the equation, ‘mind is to brain as program is to hardware’ breaks down…[T]he program is purely formal…[M]ental states and events are literally a product of the operation of the brain, but the program is not in that way a product of the computer.

  • Searle will argue that no matter how complex the software, no matter what inputs and outputs it negotiates, it cannot be ascribed mental states in any literal sense and

  • Neither can the hardware that runs the program since it lacks the causal powers of human (and other) brains that produce intentional states.

  • We may ascribe mental states to them metaphorically—in the way we say the car (which needs an alignment) wants to veer left or the jam you just cooked is trying to gel.


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Argument from Vacuous Opposition

If strong AI is to be a branch of psychology, then it must be able to distinguish those systems that are genuinely mental from those that are not…The study of the mind starts with such facts as that humans have beliefs, while thermostats, telephones, and adding machines don't. If you get a theory that denies this point you have produced a counterexample to the theory and the theory is false…What we wanted to know is what distinguishes the mind from thermostats and livers.

  • X’s in our ordinary way of thinking have P

  • Z’s in our ordinary way of thinking don’t have P.

  • If, in order to argue that Y’s have P we have to redefine ‘having P’ in such a way that Z’s count as having P, ascribing P to Y’s is uninteresting.

  • Compare the Gaia Hypothesis, to “Everybody’s beautiful—in their own way,” or to Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average


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    Objections to Searle’s Chinese Room Argument

    Searle considers 3 kinds of objections to his Chinese Room Argument:

    • Even if in the original thought experiment Searle wouldn’t count as understanding Chinese, a more complicated system that was a machine in the requisite sense would understand Chinese

      • Systems Reply: add the room, rule book, scratchpads, etc.

      • Robot Reply: add a more elaborate input device and output

      • The Brain Simulator Reply: complicate the system so that it mimics the pattern of brain activity characteristic of understanding Chinese

      • The Combination Reply: all of the above

    • The Other Minds Reply

    • The Many Mansions Reply: We could duplicate the causal processes of the brain as well as the formal features of brain activity patterns


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    Objections to the Chinese Room Argument

    • The Systems Reply: While it is true that the individual person who is locked in the room does not understand the story, the fact is that he is merely part of a whole system, and the system does understand the story. The person has a large ledger in front of him in which are written the rules, he has a lot of scratch paper and pencils for doing calculations, he has 'data banks' of sets of Chinese symbols. Now, understanding is not being ascribed to the mere individual; rather it is being ascribed to this whole system of which he is a part.

    • The Robot Reply: Suppose we wrote a different kind of program from Schank's program. Suppose we put a computer inside a robot, and this computer would not just take in formal symbols as input and give out formal symbols as output, but rather would actually operate the robot in such a way that the robot does something very much like perceiving, walking, moving about, hammering nails, eating drinking -- anything you like. The robot would, for example have a television camera attached to it that enabled it to 'see,' it would have arms and legs that enabled it to 'act,' and all of this would be controlled by its computer 'brain.' Such a robot would, unlike Schank's computer, have genuine understanding and other mental states.


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    Objections to the Chinese Room Argument

    • The Brain Simulator Reply: Suppose we design a program that doesn't represent information that we have about the world, such as the information in Schank's scripts, but simulates the actual sequence of neuron firings at the synapses of the brain of a native Chinese speaker when he understands stories in Chinese and gives answers to them. The machine takes in Chinese stories and questions about them as input, it simulates the formal structure of actual Chinese brains in processing these stories, and it gives out Chinese answers as outputs…Now surely in such a case we would have to say that the machine understood the stories; and if we refuse to say that, wouldn't we also have to deny that native Chinese speakers understood the stories? At the level of the synapses, what would or could be different about the program of the computer and the program of the Chinese brain?

    • The Combination Reply: While each of the previous three replies might not be completely convincing by itself as a refutation of the Chinese room counterexample, if you take all three together they are collectively much more convincing and even decisive. Imagine a robot with a brain-shaped computer lodged in its cranial cavity, imagine the computer programmed with all the synapses of a human brain, imagine the whole behavior of the robot is indistinguishable from human behavior, and now think of the whole thing as a unified system and not just as a computer with inputs and outputs. Surely in such a case we would have to ascribe intentionality to the system.


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    Objections to the Chinese Room Argument

    • The Other Minds Reply: How do you know that other people understand Chinese or anything else? Only by their behavior. Now the computer can pass the behavioral tests as well as they can (in principle), so if you are going to attribute cognition to other people you must in principle also attribute it to computers. [Remember, Turing argued along these lines too]

    • The Many Mansions Reply: Your whole argument presupposes that AI is only about analogue and digital computers. But that just happens to be the present state of technology. Whatever these causal processes are that you say are essential for intentionality (assuming you are right), eventually we will be able to build devices that have these causal processes, and that will be artificial intelligence. So your arguments are in no way directed at the ability of artificial intelligence to produce and explain cognition.


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    The Systems Reply

    While it is true that the individual person who is locked in the room does not understand the story, the fact is that he is merely part of a whole system, and the system does understand the story.

    Searle says: Let the individual internalize…memorize the rules in the ledger and the data banks of Chinese symbols, and…[do] all the calculations in his head. He understands nothing of the Chinese, and a fortiori neither does the system.

    • You’ve memorized the rules for constructing WFFs, the 18 Rules of Inference and rules for Conditional and Indirect Proof in Hurley’s Concise Introduction to Logic.

    • Now you can do all those formal derivations in the Propositional Calculus without looking…and get an ‘A’ on your logic exam!

    • Do you understand what those symbols mean?


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    The Systems Reply

    • Could there be a “subsystem” of the man in the room that understands Chinese?

    • Searle: The only motivation for saying there must be a subsystem in me that understands Chinese is that I have a program and I can pass the Turing test; I can fool native Chinese speakers. But precisely one of the points at issue is the adequacy of the Turing test.

    • Which ever way you cut it, you can’t crank semantics (meaning) out of syntax and symbol-manipulation.

    • Whether it’s the man in the room, the room (with rulebook, scratchpad, etc.) or some subsytem of the man in the room, if all that’s going on is symbol-pushing, there’s no understanding.


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    The Robot Reply

    Suppose we put a computer inside a robot, and this computer would not just take in formal symbols as input and give out formal symbols as output, but would rather actually operate the robot in such a way that the robot does something very much like perceiving walking, moving about, etc.

    Searle: the addition of such ‘perceptual’ and ‘motor’ capacities adds nothing by way of understanding, in particular, or intentionality, in general…Suppose, unknown to me, some of the Chinese symbols …come from a television camera attached to the robot and other Chinese symbols that I am giving out serve to make the motors inside the robot move the robot’s legs or arms…I don’t understand anything…All I do is follow formal instructions about manipulating formal symbols.


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    The Brain Simulator Reply

    Suppose we design a program that doesn’t represent information that we have about the world…but simulates the actual sequence of neuron firings at the synapses of the brain of a native Chinese speaker…At the level of the synapeses, what would or could be different about the program of the computer and the program of the Chinese brain?

    • Searle: The problem with the brain simulator is that it is simulating the wrong things about the brain. As long as it simulates only the formal structure of the sequence of neuron firings at the synapses, it won't have simulated what matters about the brain, namely its causal properties, its ability to produce intentional states. And…the formal properties are not sufficient for the causal properties.


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    Block’s Chinese Nation Thought Experiment

    Suppose that the whole nation of China was reordered to simulate the workings of a single brain (that is, to act as a mind according to functionalism). Each Chinese person acts as (say) a neuron, and communicates by special two-way radio in the corresponding way to the other people. The current mental state of China Brain is displayed on satellites that may be seen from anywhere in China. China Brain would then be connected via radio to a body, one that provides the sensory inputs and behavioral outputs of China Brain.

    Thus China Brain possesses all the elements of a functional description of mind: sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and internal mental states causally connected to other mental states. If the nation of China can be made to act in this way, then, according to functionalism, this system would have a mind.


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    The Hive Mind

    • Individual bees aren’t too bright—but the swarm “behaves intelligently”

    • Is there a hive mind?


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    The Combination Reply

    While each of the previous three replies might not be completely convincing by itself as a refutation of the Chinese room counterexample, if you take all three together theyare collectively much more convincing and even decisive.

    Searle: Suppose we knew that the robot's behavior was entirely accounted for by the fact that a man inside it was receiving uninterpreted formal symbols from the robot's sensory receptors and sending out uninterpreted formal symbols to its motor mechanisms, and the man was doing this symbol manipulation in accordance with a bunch of rules. Furthermore, suppose the man knows none of these facts about the robot, all he knows is which operations to perform on which meaningless symbols. In such a case we would regard the robot as an ingenious mechanical dummy. The hypothesis that the dummy has a mind would now be unwarranted and unnecessary, for there is now no longer any reason to ascribe intentionality to the robot or to the system of which it is apart.


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    The Combination Reply

    • Compare to our reasons for ascribing intelligence to animals:

      Given the coherence of the animal's behavior and the assumption of the same causal stuff underlying it, we assume both that the animal must have mental states underlying its behavior, and that the mental states must be produced by mechanisms made out of the stuff that is like our stuff. We would certainly make similar assumptions about the robot unless we had some reason not to, but as soon as we knew that the behavior was the result of a formal program, and that the actual causal properties of the physical substance were irrelevant we would abandon the assumption of intentionality.

    • But some questions here…

      • Why should the right stuff matter?

      • What sort of stuff is the right stuff?

      • And why?


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    The Right Stuff: A Conjecture

    • Compare to the water/H20 case

      • Until recently in human history we didn’t know what the chemical composition of water was: we didn’t know that it was H20.

      • But we assumed that what made this stuff water was something about the stuff of which it was composed—its hidden internal structure.

      • Once we discover what that internal structure is, we refuse to recognize other stuff that has the same superficial characteristics as water.

    • Similarly, we don’t know what thinking/understanding/intentionality is intrinsically—in terms of its internal workings, but regard that internal structure (whatever it is) as what it is to think/understand.

    • So, when we discover that something that superficially behaves like a thinking being doesn’t have the appropriate internal organization, we deny that it thinks/understands/exhibits intentionality.


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    The Other Minds Reply

    How do you know that other people understand Chinese or anything else? Only by their behavior. Now the computer can pass the behavioral tests as well as they can (in principle), so if you are going to attribute cognition to other people you must in principle also attribute it to computers.

    Searle: [T]his discussion is not about how I know that other people have cognitive states, but rather what it is that I am attributing to them when I attribute cognitive states to them.

    • Compare to Turing’s remarks about solipcism

    • Searle notes that the issue isn’t an epistemic question of how we can know whether some other being is the subject of psychological states but what it is to have psychological states.


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    The Many Mansions Reply

    Your whole argument presupposes that AI is only about analogue and digital computers. But that just happens to be the present state of technology. Whatever these causal processes are that you say are essential for intentionality (assuming you are right), eventually we will be able to build devices that have these causal processes, and that will be artificial intelligence.

    I really have no objection to this reply save to say that it in effect trivializes the project of strong AI by redefining it as whatever artificially produces and explains cognition…I see no reason in principle why we couldn't give a machine the capacity to understand English or Chinese… But I do see very strong arguments for saying that we could not give such a thing to a machine where the operation of the machine is defined solely in term of computational processes over formally defined elements…The main point of the present argument is that no purely formal model will ever be sufficient by itself for intentionality because the formal properties are not by themselves constitutive of intentionality. [emphasis added] Note: Searle isn’t a dualist!


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    And now…some questions

    What is the “thing that thinks”? How interesting is Searle’s Thesis?

    • I do see very strong arguments for saying that we could not give such a thing [understanding a language] to a machine where the operation of the machine is defined solely in term of computational processes over formally defined elements

    • What is defined in terms of such computational processes:

      • The program as an abstract machine (at bottom, a Turing Machine)?

      • The hardware (or wetware) that runs the program?

    • Would we run into the same difficulties in describing how humans operate if we identified the “thing that thinks” with the “programs” they instantiate?

      • Arguably “minds” don’t think and neither do brains: people do.

      • And computer hardware may have causal powers comparable to human wetware.


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    Thought Experiments

    • Searle relies on a thought-experiment to elicit our intuitions, elaborated in response to objections: how much does this show?

    • We may be guilty of “species chauvinism”—vide Turing on ignoring the appearance of the machine or its capacity to appreciate strawberries and cream

    • The sequence of elaborations on the original thought experiment may be misleading: suppose we started with the robot, or the brain-simulator?

    • With the development of more sophisticated computers our intuitions about what it is to think might change. Compare, e.g.

      • Stravinsky (or Wagner, or Berlioz) isn’t music but just a lot of noise

      • Whales are fish

      • Marriage is (necessarily) between a man and a woman.


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    Theory of Mind?

    • What theories of mind does Searle reject?

      • behaviorism: passing the Turing Test won’t do.

      • functionalism—at least “machine functionalism.

      • Cartesian dualism: Searle repeatedly remarks that the brain is a machine

    • To what theories of mind do Searle’s arguments suggest he’s sympathetic?

      • The Identity Theory?

    • Intentionality remains a mystery and it’s not clear what Searle’s positive thesis, if any, comes to.


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    Liberalism and Species Chauvinism

    • Human adults are the paradigm case of beings with psychological states: how similar, and in what respects similar, does something else have to be in order to count as the subject of psychological states?

    • Does the right stuff matter? If so why?

      • ‘Could a machine think?’ The answer is obviously yes..Assuming it is possible to produce artificially a machine with a nervous system, neurons with axons and dendrites, and all the rest of it, sufficiently like ours.

      • Why axons and dendrites? What about Martians, etc.?

    • Does the right organization matter? If so, at what level of abstraction

      • Searle’s argument clearly tells against behaviorism, the view that internal organization doesn’t count.

      • And it’s meant to tell against functionalism.


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    Is Intentionality “what matters”?

    Or is it consciousness