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Quantum linguistics’ and Searle’s Chinese room argument

J. Mark Bishop ( Professor of Cognitive Computing, Department of Computing, Goldsmiths, University of London )

Viewed in the light of recent technological advances in A.I. (e.g. the remarkable performance of ‘Watson’ - IBMs proprietary artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language - on the US general knowledge quiz show ‘Jeopardy’), I review two experiments on formal systems - one in the domain of quantum physics, the other involving a pictographic languaging game - whereby behaviour seemingly characteristic of domain understanding is generated by the mere mechanical application of simple rules. By re-examining both experiments in the context of Searle’s Chinese Room Argument, I suggest their results merely endorse Searle’s core intuition: that ‘syntactical manipulation of symbols is not sufficient for semantics’. Although, pace Watson, some artificial intelligence practitioners have suggested that more complex, higher-level operations on formal symbols are required to instantiate understanding in computational systems, I will demonstrate that allowing even very high-level calls, say to Google-translate, would not enable a computer qua ‘formal symbol processor’ to understand the language it processes. I will conclude by suggesting some implications of this claim to both A.I. and Cognitive Science.



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