Posted by: captainfalcon | September 23, 2009

Doesn’t quite compute

The Turing Test is supposed to be a test for determining whether something is a thinking being. It is such a test (I claim) if this proposition is true:

(T) Necessarily: If a (sufficiently competent) querist can be convinced, in an (online) discussion of reasonable length and breadth, that his interlocutor is a thinking being then the querist is justified in concluding that his interlocutor is a thinking being.

Searle’s Chinese Room Experiment (CRE) is supposed to confute (T). As I read it, CRE is designed to make this proposition seem plausible:

(S) It is possible that: (i) A and B are both capable of convincing us, in an (online) discussion of reasonable length and breadth, that they are thinking beings and (ii) we are justified in believing that A is a thinking being, but (iii) we are unjustified in believing that B is a thinking being because (iv) the causes of A’s behavior are of a different type than the causes of B’s behavior.

If (S) is true then (T) is not. This is because (T) implies that you can be (indefeasibly) justified in concluding that your interlocutor is a thinking being even absent any knowledge of the causal chain leading up to the behaviors he exhibits, whereas (S) denies this. (While (S) is compatible with your being prima facie justified in believing that something about whose inner workings you are ignorant is a thinking being, it does not allow that knowledge of inner workings is irrelevant.)

Does CRE give us any reason to think (S) true? Here’s a tendentious (but, I think, accurate*) characterization of what CRE is about: describe the inner workings of a thing (about which (T) implies we are justified in concluding “it is a thinking being”) in such a way that we just can’t grasp how (i.e. it seems weird to us that) the thing could be capable of thought. Because we can’t grasp it, we are justified in concluding that the thing isn’t a thinking being. (So (S)’s implication that the causes of a behavior have a bearing on whether we are justified in believing the behavior evinces thought is true.)

If I’m right then CRE proves too much, and so doesn’t support (S). Why? For reasons bordering on the trite: I just can’t grasp how a chunk of electrified meat could be capable of thought, but I am not unjustified in concluding that humans are thinking beings.

* But I could be wrong, so best to read CRE yourselves.

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Responses

  1. I read the CRE mostly as a statement about observability of intelligence – something can act as if intelligent, at least within a limited or predicted scope, while not being intelligent. If one wants to take the experiment to its fullest power, it has to state that actually ALL intelligent behavior could be mimicked by something lacking in intelligence, given sufficient preparation and attention to detail. To put it briefly, “a comprehensive weak AI can exist.”

    If accepted, then one must unfortunately grant that merely observing a human does not allow one to confidently conclude that the human is intelligent. This is the worst consequence you have to swallow, but it’s not as damning as it seems.

    Presumably you have a unique perspective which allows you to judge yourself intelligent. Thus, if you observe another human, who you know has a brain very similar to yours, acting intelligently, you have pretty good evidence that they are intelligent. On the other hand, we generally don’t consider Notepad to be sentient, so perhaps we should be reluctant to label other programs as sentient as well, even if they perform more intelligently.

  2. […] I respond here to MM’s reply to “Doesn’t quite compute:” I read the CRE mostly as a statement about observability of intelligence – something can […]

  3. Got a trackback!

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    A definite great read..Jim Bean


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