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Essay on Artificial Intelligence: Critical Analysis of The Chinese Room

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the simulation of human intelligence and computation in machines, especially computer systems. These such processes include learning, reasoning and self-correction. There is AI all around us, from self-driving vehicles to virtual personal assistants on mobile devices such as Apple’s Siri.

A.I can be categorized into two different groups: weak AI and strong AI.

Weak AI are systems that are designed for specific tasks. They are able to sense things similar to what they know and classify them accordingly. This presents a human-like experience however this is just a simulation. The AI may not understand your commands but follows an algorithms in order to respond to your requests. A very good example of a weak AI is Apple's Siri, which has the Internet behind it serving as a powerful database. Siri seems very intelligent, as it is able to hold a conversation with actual people, even giving sarcastic remarks and a few jokes, but actually operates in a very narrow, predefined manner.

Strong A.I on the other hand can be described as a machine that could fool a human into thinking it is also human. Strong A.I are machines that are capable of experiencing consciousness. They are perceived to have human cognitive abilities. When a strong AI is presented with a problem, it proceeds to find a solution without human intervention.

In 1980, philosopher John Searle published an argument in the journal The Behavioural and Brain Sciences that has now become one of the most well known arguments and thought experiments in recent philosophy. The argument entails an individual seated in a room. The room is completely sealed except for a little slot that allows for messages to enter and exit the room. The individual in the room speaks only English and no other language. The individual is provided with a book with Chinese characters and responses to such characters and instructions on what to do. Someone slips a message in Chinese into the room and the individual must create a response using the book and the instructions without knowing any Chinese whatsoever. The individual is capable of producing a string of characters that reply to the Chinese message and henceforth, fooling the individual outside. The person outside is lead to believe the individual inside the room is Chinese even when they are not.

The Chinese room argument plays a significant role in the computer science community. Searle’s experiment is created in an effort to argue against strong AI. Searle says “The point of the argument is this: if the man in the room does not understand Chinese on the basis of implementing the appropriate program for understanding Chinese then neither does any other digital computer solely on that basis because no computer, qua computer, has anything the man does not have.”

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Similar to a computer, the individual in the room follows a set of instructions to reply to the individual outside. He does not know what he is saying or what the messages mean however, he is capable of fooling the individual outside that he speaks fluent Chinese. This is directly related to computers such that strong AI may seem like it has knowledge however, it is merely following a set of instructions provided. To the outsider user, strong AI may be seen to have cognitive thinking skills and the ability to understand what it is being asked to do however, like the individual inside the Chinese room, it does not understand its request and only provides a response to the task by following the set of instructions it has been asked to do.

In the original BBS article, Searle identified and discussed several responses to the argument that he had come across in giving the argument in talks at various places. As a result, these early responses have received the most attention in subsequent discussion. There are seven main responses to the Chinese argument: the systems reply, the virtual mind reply, the robot reply, the brain simulator reply, the other minds reply, the intuition reply.

The Systems Reply argues that the man inside the room does not understand any Chinese whatsoever however, replies continue. The man is just a part of the larger system. Hence, the man can be described as the CPU, the book with Chinese characters and the instructions being the database. These make up the larger system. The Virtual Mind Reply argues whether understanding is created, not necessarily in the mind of the individual inside the room. The Virtual Mind Reply holds that a running system may create new, virtual, entities that are distinct from both the system as a whole, as well as from the sub-systems such as the CPU or operator.

The Robot Reply argues that we put a digital computer in a robot body, with sensors, such as video cameras and microphones, and add effectors, such as wheels to move around with, and arms with which to manipulate things in the world. Such a robot—a computer with a body—could do what a child does, learn by seeing and doing. The Robot Reply holds that such a digital computer in a robot body, freed from the room, could attach meanings to symbols and actually understand natural language.

The Brain Simulator Reply argues that the program implemented by the computer or the person in the room does not represent information that we have about the world but simulates the actual sequence of neuron firings at the synapses of a Chinese speaker when he understands Chinese and gives answers to them. Surely then, we would have to say that the machine or the room understood Chinese or else we would also have to deny that native Chinese speakers understood Chinese since at the level of the synapses there would be no difference between the program of the computer and the program of the Chinese brain.

The Other Minds Reply argues that the behaviour of the room mimics anyone else who actually understands Chinese. Since the room is behaving in this way, it should be credited with understanding Chinese too.

The Intuition Reply argues that the Chinese room argument depends on the assumption that certain things such as the man in the room or the computer are incapable of thinking or having understanding. Henceforth, they are incapable of learning Chinese.

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Essay on Artificial Intelligence: Critical Analysis of The Chinese Room. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Essay on Artificial Intelligence: Critical Analysis of The Chinese Room.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
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