Searle and the Chinese Room Argument
Contributors:  David L. Anderson: Author, Storyboards
Kari Cox: Animations
Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

Overview:

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MODULE DESCRIPTION:

Can a machine be intelligent? Have beliefs? Have a mind? Those who support strong AI and the strongest forms of functionalism argue that a machine with a digital computer and the right kind of computer program could have a mind. One of the most famous (and infamous) attacks on this view is John Searle's "Chinese Room Argument." A series of animations present a virtual version of Searle in his "Chinese room." These animations make it clear how the argument is intended to work, its significance, and its vulnerabilities. Special attention is given to the "Robot Reply," which is a rebuttal to Searle's argument that Searle attempts to refute.

MODULE COMPONENTS:

CURRICULUM MATERIALS

The Chinese Room Argument raises more strong emotions than any other argument in the cognitive sciences. Why? Understanding how the argument is supposed to work will help to explain both why it is so passionately embraced by so many and why it is so passionately reviled by so many others.

  • Searle and the Chinese Room Argument
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Author, Storyboards
    Kari Cox: Animations

    The first step is to be clear about how the argument is supposed to work. Here, an animation of the Chinese Room aids one's understanding.

  • Searle and the Robot Reply
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Author, Storyboards
    Kari Cox: Animations
    Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

    One popular response to Searle's argument is to concede that a computer sitting on a desk doesn't genuinely "understand" anything, but to argue that an intelligent robot could understand a language. Explore the "Robot Reply" objection to the Chinese Room argument and Searle's attempt to defeat it.

FLASH ANIMATIONS (Only)

All of our Flash animations are embedded in curriculum pages (see above) that explain the significance of each animation. However, for convenience we have also created animation-only pages for each Flash movie which you will find below.

  • Searle's Chinese Room Thought Experiment (Flash)
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Storyboards
    Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

    This animation is our interpretation of the original Chinese Room thought experiment offered by John Searle.

  • The "Digital Room" Thought Experiment (Flash)
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Storyboards
    Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

    This is our modification of Searle's original Chinese Room thought experiment. Here, we have replaced the language of Chinese with the binary language (0's and 1's) used by digital computers. Here the person in the room is manipulating symbols in a way that more closely resembles the functioning a familiar desktop computers.

  • The "Chinese Room in a Robot: Linguistic Processing" (Flash)
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Storyboards
    Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

    This animation shows how a robot would function when controlled by our "digital" version of Searle's Chinese Room. Searle inside the room is now manipulating the binary symbols of 0's and 1's rather than Chinese. The data he receives in the room are from sentences of English, which have been converted to the binary language of 0's and 1's -- as they would be in a real digital computer.

  • The "Chinese Room Inside a Robot: Visual Processing" (Flash)
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Storyboards
    Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

    This animation shows how a robot would function when controlled by our "digital" version of Searle's Chinese Room. Searle inside the room is now manipulating the binary symbols of 0's and 1's rather than Chinese. The data he receives (0's and 1's) comes from a video camera recording objects in the world.

  • CONFUSED VERSION of "Chinese Room Inside a Robot" (Flash)
    Contributors:  
    David L. Anderson: Storyboards
    Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards

    Sometimes people have a naive conception of how computers work. Here, Searle's Chinese Room is inside a robot receiving "visual data". One might imagine Searle is literally "seeing" photographs of objects in the world taken by the video camera. But this is NOT how computers process data. This animation shows a MISCONCEPTION that must be avoided. See correct version in video above.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Below are two versions of the original John Searle article, "Minds, Brains, and Programs," in which he advanced his "Chinese Room Argument." It was published in The Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1980) and was accompanied by several dozen 1-2 page responses by experts in the field.


Credits:

Funding
This module was supported by National Science Foundation Grant #0127561.