John Searle gives a nice talk at Google about real intelligence vs. machine intelligence. The conversation is interesting for a number of reasons, including some historical background of Searle’s famous “Chinese Room Argument.”
First, the question of whether computers are conscious is a common one in the Intelligent Design debate, and Searle does a good job showing why computers are not conscious.
Second, the interaction between Searle and the rest of the community is a toned-down replica of the debate that the mainstream ID community has with the evolutionary biology community. Searle, not being an expert in computer science, asked basic questions that anyone might come up with reading a basic book about the subject. These questions, thirty years on, have yet to be answered, yet they were seen as preposterous at the time. Still today, the materialists seem to ignore rather than answer his argument.
Along the same lines, Searle notes that early on people were constantly trying to snow him with techno-babble. They would say, “well, your model doesn’t include X, so it is irrelevant,” where X is something like a power supply. Searle didn’t always know what X was, but after five minutes of investigation, it becomes obvious that X is totally irrelevant to the argument, and is just a matter of some person trying to assert their authority in the matter, not really answering the question.
Third, it is interesting to me that the way that Searle gets most legitimately beat up is by not taking his own argument seriously enough. He believes that humans are machines – he follows materialism. Kurzweil’s argument essentially goes like this – the causal powers of the brain aren’t any different than the causal powers of electronics, and if you can map one to the other in an equal logical footing, why aren’t they equivalent? Searle basically just sidestepped it by saying (rightly) that neuroscience has no idea how the brain works, so you can’t say that you know how to replicate it. But if we are just machines, Kurzweil’s argument stands – we *can* implement consciousness on machines.
However, if you take the chinese room argument more seriously that Searle does – that we *must* be more than machines to hold a semantic component – then Kurzweil’s argument simply falls on its face.
Part of me thinks that this is why materialists like Searle are given a higher place in academia while they would probably never invite Plantinga to give a similar account (though they both cover the same conceptual space) – with Searle, since he is a materialist, he never fully challenges their conceptions. Additionally, Kurzweil always has an out – if we assume that everything is material, then we know that there is no causation beyond the material by simple implication. However, if you bring in someone who believes in a larger causative universe, then your argument is left without foundation.
Anyway, I did not watch it to the end (I’m 45 minutes in but I have other things I need to do today), but I thought that both the general significance of the Chinese Room argument to ID, the intellectual similarities of the struggle between simple, basic, obvious questions and people who want to assert their authority rather than answer them, and the general problems of materialist assumptions with reality meant that it was worth the opportunity to post.
Anyway, let me know your thoughts, and especially if anything interesting happens past the 45-minute mark.