Research papers have caught up with me, but we’ll be back to opinion on Saturday. In the meantime, here’s some more philosophy poetry. It’s based on John Searle’s famous Chinese Room experiment, in which he tries to demonstrate that computers could never think by introducing a person in a room who doesn’t speak Chinese, but who has all the instructions for turning Chinese sentences into English, and who can follow them. They process Chinese sentences day in and day out, churning out English ones, but we wouldn’t say that they understand Chinese, would we? It’s a thought experiment fraught with problems, and I’m not sure it shows that artificial intelligence is impossible, but it does raise some good points about it and the kinds of things which we would look for in it. So I wrote about it from Searle’s perspective, breaking down his Chinese Room paper into a poem.

Dark Rooms, White Screens, Chinese

The man in the room doesn’t speak Chinese.
It’s a wonder he can speak at all, manipulating symbols all his life with no idea what they say.
Men in white coats watch his wonderful output, gloating over their thinking machine,
The lovely beige box.
Congratulating their parrot when he requests crackers, they dream of bigger things,
Of forging hephaestian silicon mechanisms in dank mothers’ basements and musty garages,
birthing a motorized Mozart from old Tandys and Wangs.
Commodore they’ll call him, leader of a fleet of artificial minds,
Tiny men in tiny rooms speaking perfect Chinese without speaking Chinese.
Tiny fools, built by larger fools to imitate foolish acts proposed by foolish theorists.
No blinking sea of LEDs, tubes, tapes, switches and valves can believe.
Can conceive. Can relieve, grant reprieve, orstrive to achieve.
That’s naïve.

But still they try, defeating themselves at every turn,
Each theory their personal Waterloo.
Whether making systemic attributions
(I place the room inside my head, let their attributions reach it there).
When crafting a machine in the shape of a man
(Needing more than a mind, but sight, motion, hearing, all the things which make a man)
Mimicking the brain inside my head
(But mind is course of action, not corpus in action)
Mixing the above merely muddles matters.
All other roads lead to solipsism, all current ones to Frankenstein monsters,
Doing but not understanding.
Placing words on a page, monkeys copying Shakespeare.
Biologically biased, they say.
Digging in your heels, they say.
Harsh words to cover the inadequacies of their digital girlfriends.

So lonely engineers waste their lives,
Unable to believe they cannot build a friend,
Or believing their friend means to love them.
At least they have their mothers,
Though I can’t help but wonder,
If they have a brain in their head.

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