Sunday, October 17, 2004

Chinese Room Experiment

MelbournePhilosopher

We just covered this thought experiment in lectures, and I thought it might promote some discussion.

A man is in a room, full of bookshelves. On a table in the room is a book, open at a particular page. He doesn't understand what's written on it - he is English and doesn't understand Chinese. But the book is subscripted with instructions. There is a chute which opens, which contains a sentence in chinese.

He takes the piece of paper, and follows the instructions given in the book. Those instructions are to write something else down, pass it back through the chute, and go and get a particular different book.

After several hours, he leaves the room, and discovers that he has been having a discussion with a native chinese speaker, even though he himself didn't understand the writing being exchanged.

8 Comments:

Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

test of mailing list integration - ignore

10/17/2004 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

test of mailing list integration - ignore

10/17/2004 06:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ignore again - sorry for spamming, unavoidable...

10/17/2004 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

test

10/17/2004 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

test

10/17/2004 06:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This discussions relates directly to theories of computation as well as different logic systems.

The "traditional" retort to this is that the man (Searle) indeed does NOT understand Chinese, but that the system as a whole (ie the man, the books and the instructions) does understand Chinese.

An alternate answer is that to the native speaker, you've described the ``Turing Test''. And it appears to me (a compsci graduate) that the academic community is slowly moving away from the belief that a machine which passes the Turing Test is intelligent. That is, passing the Turing Test is seen as only one of many (as yet undefined) steps to be considered intelligent.

This answer also leads to philosophical ideas of what matters. To the native Chinese speaker, if you indeed can converse in Chinese, then it doesn't really matter how you can do it, by Occam's Razor, you understand Chinese. After all, ``I think, therefore I am'', everything else is possibly an illusion.

Now the answers above are undoubtedly unsatisfactory -- after all this is philosophy, what do you expect. :-)

My personal answer which I subscribe to is that the story's scenario is simply unrealistic. That simplistic pattern matching words could never produce realistic conversations. At the very least, some state needs to be kept. The first time you see "abalbk" you might respond one way, but the second time a different way. But my belief is stronger, I doubt that the Turing model of computation is powerful enough to ever replicate real conversation -- though I haven't decided whether that's for information-theoretic reasons or for computational reasons.

/e

10/18/2004 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

One thing which I found particularly interesting is to consider that the responses of the system will never correspond to the mental state of the man inside the room. If you are trying to form an argument about whether a machine is capable of holding a mental state, you might think that's relevant. If the system does understand Chinese - where does that understanding come from? It doesn't come from the man, because he doesn't really associate any meaning with what he's doing. It doesn't seem to come from the books either, because they are just inanimate objects, having no inner life of their own.

10/18/2004 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing which I found particularly interesting is to consider that the responses of the system will never correspond to the mental state of the man inside the room. If you are trying to form an argument about whether a machine is capable of holding a mental state, you might think that's relevant. If the system does understand Chinese - where does that understanding come from? It doesn't come from the man, because he doesn't really associate any meaning with what he's doing. It doesn't seem to come from the books either, because they are just inanimate objects, having no inner life of their own.

10/18/2004 10:39:00 AM  

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