Just as people of the past thought it was impossible to build a machine to take them to the moon, so do we think that we cannot build a machine with a mind. You may have heard about the Turing Test, Strong AI Thesis, and John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment, but what do they have in common? They all revolve around the fact that one day it will be entirely possible for computers to have a greater self-understanding than we do as humans. Now, I don't know about you, but the first time hearing that sounds rather absurd. Maybe you start thinking about a science fiction movie where all the robots take over, whatever the case may be, computers are getting increasingly closer to this reality.
In 1950 the British mathematician AlanTuring proposed a test to determine whether a computer can think or not (Lawhead 251). It became known as the Turing Test. Turing is now considered the founding father of modern computer science. How does the Turing test determine whether a computer can think or not? The answer is simple, you and several other judges would be seated in a room in front of a computer terminal. Your terminal is communicating with a terminal in the other room. You communicate interactively with the unseen person in the other room by typing in questions on your keyboard and reading the other persons responses on your monitor. The goal is to determine whether you think that you are talking to an actual person or if it is a computer. Turing's claim was that if the computer program could fool a panel of judges into thinking they were communicating with a human being a significant percentage of the time, it would be proof that the computer program was capable of thought (Lawhead 252). His test became so difficult to pass that there is a prize offered every year for anyone that can write a computer program that passes the Turing Test. This contest is held at a different university every year and is administered by the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts. Up until present day, no one has been able to successfully write a computer program to pass (Lawhead 252). They are however, getting very close!
Some Philosophers have expanded Turing's thesis into the claim that the ability to pass the Turing Test is a sufficient condition for having a mind (Lawhead 254). Which brings us to the Strong AI Thesis. This is the claim that an appropriately programmed computer really is a mind and can be said to literally understand, believe, and have other cognitive states (Lawhead 254). While there are many people that would not want to accept this fact, it is also very difficult to say that some of them do not. Marvin Mininsky is of of the leading defenders of stong AI. He was a groundbreaker in artificial intelligence research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lawhead quotes Mininsky saying that someday computers will not only equal human intelligence, but will surpass it and that machines will achieve self-conciousness (Lawhead 254).
John Searle, however, thought differently. Searle, a contemporary philosopher, argued that Minsky was wrong when he offered up his famous 1980 Chinese room thought experiment. Here is a simplified Chinese room thought experiment, let us begin by assuming you have no knowledge of the Chinese language. Now, imagine that you are in a room with a rather large rule book giving directions (in English) on how to respond to…