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Can Computer Think?

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Can Computers Think? The Case For and Against Artificial Intelligence Artificial intelligence has been the subject of many bad "80's" movies and countless science fiction novels. But what happens when we seriously consider the question of computers that think. Is it possible for computers to have complex thoughts, and even emotions, like homo sapien? This paper will seek to answer that question and also look at what attempts are being made to make artificial intelligence (hereafter called AI) a reality. Before we can investigate whether or not computers can think, it is necessary to establish what exactly thinking is. Examining the three main theories is sort of like examining three religions. None offers enough support so as to effectively eliminate the possibility of the others being true. The three main theories are: 1. Thought doesn't exist; enough said. 2. Thought does exist, but is contained wholly in the brain. In other words, the actual material of the brain is capable of what we identify as thought. 3. Thought is the result of some sort of mystical phenomena involving the soul and a whole slew of other unprovable ideas. Since neither reader nor writer is a scientist, for all intents and purposes, we will say only that thought is what we (as homo sapien) experience. So what are we to consider intelligence? The most compelling argument is that intelligence is the ability to adapt to an environment. Desktop computers can, say, go to a specific WWW address. But, if the address were changed, it wouldn't know how to go about finding the new one (or even that it should). So intelligence is the ability to perform a task taking into consideration the circumstances of completing the task. So now that we have all of that out of that way, can computers think? The issue is contested as hotly among scientists as the advantages of Superman over Batman is among pre-pubescent boys. On the one hand are the scientists who say, as philosopher John Searle does, that "Programs are all syntax and no semantics." (Discover, 106) Put another way, a computer can actually achieve thought because it "merely follows rules that tell it how to shift symbols without ever understanding the meaning of those symbols." (Discover, 106) On the other side of the debate are the advocates of pandemonium, explained by Robert Wright in Time thus: "[O]ur brain subconsciously generates competing theories about the world, and only the 'winning' theory becomes part of consciousness. Is that a nearby fly or a distant airplane on the edge of your vision? Is that a baby crying or a cat meowing? By the time we become aware of such images and sounds, these debate have usually been resolved via a winner- take-all struggle. The winning theory-the one that best matches the data-has wrested control of our neurons and thus our perceptual field." (54) So, since our thought is based on previous experience, computers can eventually learn to think. The event which brought this debate in public scrutiny was Garry Kasparov, reigning chess champion of the world, competing in a six game chess match against Deep Blue, an IBM supercomputer with 32 microprocessors. Kasparov eventually won (4-2), but it raised the legitimate question, if a computer can beat the chess champion of the world at his own game (a game thought of as the ultimate thinking man's game), is there any question of AI's legitimacy? Indeed, even Kasparov said he "could feel-I could smell- a new kind of intelligence across the table." (Time, 55) But, eventually everyone, including Kasparov, realized that what amounts to nothing more than brute force, while impressive, is not thought. Deep Blue could consider 200 million moves a second.



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