[ExI] Meaningless Symbols

Gordon Swobe gts_2000 at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 9 18:54:11 UTC 2010

--- On Sat, 1/9/10, Ben Zaiboc <bbenzai at yahoo.com> wrote:

> In 'Are We Spiritual Machines?: Ray
> Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI', John Searle says:
> "Here is what happened inside Deep Blue. The computer has a
> bunch of meaningless symbols that the programmers use to
> represent the positions of the pieces on the board. It has a
> bunch of equally meaningless symbols that the programmers
> use to represent options for possible moves."
> This is a perfect example of why I can't take the guy
> seriously.  He talks about 'meaningless' symbols, then
> goes on to describe what those symbols mean! He is
> *explicitly* stating that two sets of symbols represent
> positions on a chess board, and options for possible moves,
> respectively, while at the same time claiming that these
> symbols are meaningless.  wtf?  

Human operators ascribe meanings to the symbols their computers manipulate. Sometimes humans forget this and pretend that the computers actually understand the meanings. 

It's an understandable mistake; after all it sure *looks* like computers understand the meanings. But then that's what programmers do for a living: we program dumb machines to make them look like they have understanding.

The question of strong AI is: "How can we make computers actually understand the meanings and not merely appear to understand the meanings?"

And Searle's answer is: "It won't happen from running formal syntactical programs on hardware as we do today, because computers and their programs cannot and will never get semantics from syntax. We'll need to find another way. And we know we can do it even if we don't yet know the way. After all nature did it in these machines we call humans."



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