John Searle, an American philosopher is famously known for his contributions on the Philosophy of mind and language majorly regarding the Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems in the contemporary world. Scientists and some individuals have come to believe that AI programs are capable of possessing human thinking capabilities. This would thus imply that these AIs would have a duplicate brain system similar in structure and operation to the human brain. Nevertheless, Searle disapproves the scientists who claim that the human brain is similar to a digital computer, since, the functionalism such as reasoning, thinking, and intelligence are basically just computations that could be manipulated by formulation(in principle) to either be duplicated or simulated by the right type of machine.
Despite the fact that the human brain is in some way similar to computers in the sense of their programming, Searle points out that basic/ formal programming is not sufficient for the development of individual minds.
The brains of an AI or a human being would, therefore, cause the existence of a mind; however; the functionalism of the mind would rely on cognition and the causal powers of the mind which Searle tries to argue that the AI does not possess (Searle, 1990.
26). In simple terms, he generalized his ideas by concluding that the programming is just syntactic values whereas minds must possess semantics, however, the syntax by itself is not sufficient enough for the semantics which is kind of the basis for AI operations. Therefore to prove his point to individuals who opposed his argument, Searle developed an argument referred to as Searle’s Chinese Room argument to persuade more towards his standpoint and disapprove the others.
This paper therefore extensively analyzes Searle’s Chinese room argument against the possibility of a Strong Artificial Intelligence while concluding with individual opinions about the argument.
Searle’s argument was formulated to answer several confusing questions by scholars such as whether all the human cognition can be formalized, whether syntactic considerations justify interpretation, or whether all computational processes are cognitive in nature. Some scientists justified these claims whereas Searle introduced the idea of the Chinese Room. He encouraged fellows to imagine an English speaking individual with completely no knowledge of Chinese locked in a room full of boxes with Chinese symbols (data) with an instructional book for manipulating the symbols (program). People outside the room keep sending Chinese symbols which are in fact questions but unknown to the man (input). Then imagine that by utilizing the instructional book, the man in the room was able to pass out (output) Chinese symbols which were the correct answers to the provided Chinese questions (Searle, 1980. 420). This would thus prove Searle’s point that when an individual is capable of answering Chinese questions with the sole aid of the program and complete lack of knowledge in Chinese, then the AIs which are merely digital computers with programs are in all ways similar to this man since they do not have anything the man does not have at the moment in the room.
In reflection to the scenario, Searle concludes that AIs are just simple computational systems composed of purely syntactic operations only applying and following algorithms, unlike human computation system which on top of formal syntactic operations possess a cognition property which entails the ability to think, understand meanings, consciousness and intelligence among other properties. His argument thus accepts the existence of a weak AI which is only capable of simulating the mental activities of a human being but strongly criticizes the existence of a strong AI which scientists claim to be an appropriately programmed computer capable of duplicating or replicating mental activities of human beings implying that these machines are being claimed to have cognitive states (Searle, 1990. 28). His argument stresses on the fact that computers can only simulate but can never replicate/duplicate the human brain since it is special physiologically and biologically hence it is the only machine capable of generating a conscious mind which is a biological realism impossible to be achieved by any artificial machine/computers.
Searle’s theory on the impossibility of the existence of a strong AI met several criticisms with many individuals posing questions and responses to disapprove his theory. Among the many replies included the Systems Reply which stressed on the fact that the Chinese room scenario was unnecessary since, despite the man in the room not knowing any Chinese and getting compared to a computer as just a syntactic operation following algorithms, these individuals claim that the man in the room was only part of a larger system with other parts such as the database, program, memory etc. They argued that the man was just similar to a computer’s central processing unit which only perhaps was meant to implement however him not understanding Chinese was just part of the design of the system since when the whole of the system is placed together, they work in correspondence to actually understand Chinese (Searle, 1990. 30).
Searle, however, refuted this claim with a strong counterargument to support his hypothesis by elaborating the fact that the whole system could be restructured. These individuals based their arguments on the larger system working in correlation to each other with the man being part of it. What if the man became the entire system then? Searle criticized the claim by giving another scenario which is philosophically possible as the man could actually memorize the whole program in his mind and be able to perfectly answer the Chinese questions without knowing they were even questions because he would still not understand Chinese but will only be utilizing the program. However, in this case, the man will actually be the whole operating system constituting all the other smaller systems but he still would not be able to understand Chinese or what he is doing (Searle, 1990. 31). This, therefore, proves Searle’s hypotheses that the AIs do not have the capability of consciousness, thought, understanding or even the meaning of their operations but they just follow the commands blindly unlike human brain which is conscious of their environment.
Moreover, another more complex analysis of Searle’s Chinese room scenario resulted in the Robot’s reply. These individuals claimed that Searle was very right regarding the Chinese room, however, he did not consider the fact that the digital computer in form of the AI could actually be built a robot’s body with sensors for the outside world just like the human being sensors so that they could interact, see and do things through learning just as human beings are programmed to learn hence these computers inside the robots would be able to develop cognitive capabilities such as understanding and other mental states. Searle, however, stands his point by claiming that the sensors would just be additional syntactic input bringing in the data but there will be no semantic realized. He advised these individuals to manipulate the first scenario just a little bit by placing the Chinese room inside the robot. In this new scenario, the man in the room would still not know Chinese but capable of enabling an output. For instance, an input picked up by the computer’s sensors would be translated by the man using the program then he would give out the answers/commands as outputs which would enable a reaction for instance if the input required a translation to provide an output of movement by the robot, then the robot would move but the man in the room would still not have understood/ even known what the question/ the command was (Searle, 1980. 422). This just further proved Searle’s point that the addition of more syntax would not make the Strong AIs develop cognition.
Another reply to criticize Searle’s Chinese room scenario and theories regarding the mind is the Brain Simulator Reply. This, therefore, challenged Searle by questioning what if the program was created in a way to simulate the actual sequences and nerve firings of the brain of a Chinese native speaker, then the computer can be assumed to operate at the same level as the human native Chinese speaker and this would imply that it would be capable of understanding or even developing other mind states? Even for this argument, Searle further claims that understanding will still be impossible by manipulating the Chinese room once again. He instructs individuals to imagine a variation in the room that instead of shuffling symbols for the answers, the man is now directed by the input Chinese symbols and the program to turn specific valves of the water pipes in the room for him to produce the correct Chinese answer (Searle, 1980. 423). Still, this man in the room won’t understand Chinese in any capacity or even what he was doing but he will still accomplish the task successfully once again proving Searle’s point that Strong AIs as stipulated are just impossible to create.
Personally, I am in agreement with Searle’s agreement more so in the perspective of biological realism and its relation to cognition. It is evident that throughout history scientists of different fields have tried to come up with human technological replicas that could function not only by syntactic operation on following algorithms but may also have semantics similar to human cognition. This has however been possible in the movies as no AI is capable of developing biological realism as humans. Despite the human brain and computers being programs, the human brain programming is special and unique and capable of developing into a mind, unlike computer programs. Therefore, in General, Searle’s theory on the impossibility of the artificial intelligence makes sense since computers are only capable of receiving and implementing programs and algorithms without thought whereas humans with their cognition are able to think, understand a situation, be conscious and apply intelligence by reasoning and assessing situations before getting involved.
In conclusion, Searle’s Chinese room argument seeks to persuade people to the fact that the idea of creating Strong AI is not possible just because no computer programming can match human brain biological realism. Searle thus came up with the Chinese Room argument to prove his point. However, this argument received criticisms in form of systems reply, robot’s reply, and brain simulator reply. Nevertheless, these criticisms were all disapproved by Searle claiming that a computer is not capable of understanding anything but only following the program. Therefore, however advanced the programming might get, the individuals involved will still not be able to incorporate the aspect of biological realism in the computers to make them similar to human brains programming.