Chinese room argument

Chinese room argument


Philosopher John Searle formulated the Chinese room argument to discredit the idea that a computer can be programmed with the appropriate functions to behave the same way a human mind would.

The argument asks the reader to imagine a computer that is programmed to understand how to read and communicate in Chinese. It would work with taking in Chinese characters and output other Chinese characters in response. If the computer passed the Turing test, it could convince a human that the program is itself a Chinese speaker. The position of strong artificial intelligence holds that the computer literally understands Chinese and weak artificial intelligence if it is only simulating this Chinese comprehension. 

If a human had an English version of the computer program, he or she could could take in Chinsese words the same way the computer would and output characters the same way the computer would. Searle argues there’s no difference inherent between this human and the computer even though the human doesn’t understand the Chinese language itself. He therefore concludes the computer wouldn’t understand Chinese either.

Instead, Searle supposes there’s an intentionality that the machine would need to argue for strong artificial intelligence. As computers and other machines lack this method of thinking, they don’t have a mind in our traditional sense of the word. Searle’s work in artificial intelligence and the philosophy of the mind would continue to take center stage of debates in the disciplines.