Human Language Technology

Making sense of language, thought and reality

The Chinese Room Argument

The Chinese Room Argument: John Searle


11:22 The way the argument goes in its simplest version
11:24 is I am locked in a room full of Chinese– well,
11:29 they’re boxes full of Chinese symbols and a rule book
11:32 in English for manipulating the symbols.
11:34 Unknown to me, the boxes are called a database,
11:38 and the rule book is called a program.
11:40 In coming in the room, I get Chinese symbols.
11:44 Unknown to me, those are questions.
11:46 I look up what I’m supposed to do.
11:48 And after I shuffle a lot of symbols,
11:49 I give back other symbols.
11:51 And those are answers to the questions.
11:54 Now we will suppose– I hope your bored
11:56 with this, because I am.
11:57 I mean, I’ve told this story many times.
12:01 We will suppose that they get so good at writing the program,
12:04 I get so good at shuffling the symbols,
12:06 that my answers are indistinguishable
12:08 from a native Chinese speaker.
12:10 I pass the Turing test for understanding Chinese.
12:13 All the same, I don’t understand a word of Chinese.
12:16 And there’s no way in the Chinese room
12:18 that I could come to understand Chinese because all I am
12:23 is a computer system.
12:24 And the rules I operate are a computer program.
12:28 And– and this is the important point–
12:30 the program is purely syntactical.
12:33 It is defined entirely as a set of operations
12:37 over syntactical elements.
12:39 To put it slightly more technically,
12:41 the notion same implemented program
12:43 defines an equivalence class that
12:45 is specified completely independently of any physics
12:48 and, in particular, independent of the physics
12:51 of its realization.
12:53 The bottom line is if I don’t understand
12:56 the questions and the answers on the basis of implementing
13:00 the program, then neither does any other digital computer
13:03 on that basis because no computer
13:06 has anything that I don’t have.
13:09 Computers are purely syntactical devices.
13:13 Their operations are defined syntactically.
13:15 And human intelligence requires more than syntax.
13:19 It requires a semantics.
13:20 It requires an understanding of what’s going on.