The Chinese Room Revisited Written by Sam Vaknin
Whole forests have been wasted in effort to refute Chinese Room Thought Experiment proposed by Searle in 1980 and refined (really derived from axioms) in 1990. The experiment envisages a room in which an English speaker sits, equipped with a book of instructions in English. Through one window messages in Chinese are passed on to him (in original experiment, two types of messages). He is supposed to follow instructions and correlate messages received with other pieces of paper, already in room, also in Chinese. This collage he passes on to outside through yet another window. The comparison with a computer is evident. There is input, a processing unit and output. What Searle tried to demonstrate is that there is no need to assume that central processing unit (the English speaker) understands (or, for that matter, performs any other cognitive or mental function) input or output (both in Chinese). Searle generalized and stated that this shows that computers will never be capable of thinking, being conscious, or having other mental states. In his picturesque language "syntax is not a sufficient base for semantics". Consciousness is not reducible to computations. It takes a certain "stuff" (the brain) to get these results.
Objections to mode of presentation selected by Searle and to conclusions that he derived were almost immediately raised. Searle fought back effectively. But throughout these debates a few points seemed to have escaped most of those involved.
First, English speaker inside room himself is a conscious entity, replete and complete with mental states, cognition, awareness and emotional powers. Searle went to extent of introducing himself to Chinese Room (in his disputation). Whereas Searle would be hard pressed to prove (to himself) that English speaker in room is possessed of mental states – this is not case if he himself were in room. The Cartesian maxim holds: "Cogito, ergo sum". But this argument – though valid – is not strong. The English speaker (and Searle, for that matter) can easily be replaced in thought experiment by a Turing machine. His functions are recursive and mechanical.
But there is a much more serious objection. Whomever composed book of instructions must have been conscious, possessed of mental states and of cognitive processes. Moreover, he must also have had a perfect understanding of Chinese to have authored it. It must have been an entity capable of thinking, analysing, reasoning, theorizing and predicting in deepest senses of words. In other words: it must have been intelligent. So, intelligence (we will use it hitherto as a catchphrase for gamut of mental states) was present in Chinese Room. It was present in book of instructions and it was present in selection of input of Chinese messages and it was present when results were deciphered and understood. An intelligent someone must have judged results to have been coherent and "right". An intelligent agent must have fed English speaker with right input. A very intelligent, conscious, being with a multitude of cognitive mental states must have authored "program" (the book of instructions). Depending on content of correlated inputs and outputs, it is conceivable that this intelligent being was also possessed of emotions or an aesthetic attitude as we know it. In case of real life computers – this would be programmer.
But it is computer that Searle is talking about – not its programmer, or some other, external source of intelligence. The computer is devoid of intelligence, English speaker does not understand Chinese (="Mentalese")– not programmer (or who authored book of instructions). Yet, is SOURCE of intelligence that important? Shouldn't we emphasize LOCUS (site) of intelligence, where it is stored and used?
Surely, programmer is source of any intelligence that a computer possesses. But is this relevant? If computer were to effectively make use of intelligence bestowed upon it by programmer – wouldn't we say that it is intelligent? If tomorrow we will discover that our mental states are induced in us by a supreme intelligence (known to many as God) – should we then say that we are devoid of mental states? If we were to discover in a distant future that what we call "our" intelligence is really a clever program run from a galactic computer centre – will we then feel less entitled to say that we are intelligent? Will our subjective feelings, way that we experience our selves, change in wake of this newly acquired knowledge? Will we no longer feel mental states and intelligence that we used to feel prior to these discoveries? If Searle were to live in that era – would he have declared himself devoid of mental, cognitive, emotional and intelligent states – just because source and mechanism of these phenomena have been found out to be external or remote? Obviously, not. Where intelligence emanates from, what is its source, how it is conferred, stored, what are mechanisms of its bestowal – are all irrelevant to question whether a given entity is intelligent. The only issue relevant is whether discussed entity is possessed of intelligence, contains intelligence, has intelligent components, stores intelligence and is able to make a dynamic use of it. The locus and its properties (behaviour) matter. If a programmer chose to store intelligence in a computer – then he created an intelligent computer. He conferred his intelligence onto computer. Intelligence can be replicated endlessly. There is no quantitative law of conservation of mental states. We teach our youngsters – thereby replicating our knowledge and giving them copies of it without "eroding" original. We shed tears in movie theatre because director succeeded to replicate an emotion in us – without losing one bit of original emotion captured on celluloid.
The Technology of Law Written by Sam Vaknin
One can discern following relationships between Law and Technology:
1. Sometimes technology becomes an inseparable part of law. In extreme cases, technology itself becomes law. The use of polygraphs, faxes, telephones, video, audio and computers is an integral part of many laws - etched into them. It is not an artificial co-habitation: technology is precisely defined in law and forms a CONDITION within it. In other words: very spirit and letter of law is violated (the law is broken) if a certain technology is not employed or not put to correct use. Think about police laboratories, about O.J. Simpson case, importance of DNA prints in everything from determining fatherhood to exposing murderers. Think about admissibility of polygraph tests in a few countries. Think about polling of members of boards of directors by phone or fax (explicitly required by law in many countries). Think about assisted suicide by administering painkillers (medicines are by far most sizeable technology in terms of money). Think about security screening by using advances technology (retina imprints, voice recognition). In all these cases, use of a specific, well defined, technology is not arbitrarily left to judgement of law enforcement agents and courts. It is not a set of options, a menu to choose from. It is an INTEGRAL, crucial part of law and, in many instances, it IS law itself.
2. Technology itself contains embedded laws of all kinds. Consider internet protocols. These are laws which form part and parcel of process of decentralized data exchange so central to internet. Even language used by technicians implies legal origin of these protocols: "handshake", "negotiating", "protocol", "agreement" are all legal terms. Standards, protocols, behavioural codes - whether voluntarily adopted or not - are all form of Law. Thus, internet addresses are allocated by a central authority. Netiquette is enforced universally. Special chips and software prevent render certain content inaccessible. The scientific method (a codex) is part of every technological advance. Microchips incorporate in silicone agreements regarding standards. The law becomes a part of technology and can be deduced simply by studying it in a process known as "reverse engineering". In stating this, I am making a distinction between lex naturalis and lex populi. All technologies obey laws of nature - but we, in this discussion, I believe, wish to discuss only laws of Man.
3. Technology spurs on law, spawns it, as it were, gives it birth. The reverse process (technology invented to accommodate a law or to facilitate its implementation) is more rare. There are numerous examples. The invention of modern cryptography led to formation of a host of governmental institutions and to passing of numerous relevant laws. More recently, microchips which censor certain web content led to proposed legislation (to forcibly embed them in all computing appliances). Sophisticated eavesdropping, wiring and tapping technologies led to laws regulating these activities. Distance learning is transforming laws of accreditation of academic institutions. Air transport forced health authorities all over world to revamp their quarantine and epidemiological policies (not to mention laws related to air travel and aviation). The list is interminable.
Once a law is enacted - which reflects state of art technology - roles are reversed and law gives a boost to technology. Seat belts and airbags were invented first. The law making seat belts (and, in some countries, airbags) mandatory came (much) later. But once law was enacted, it fostered formation of whole industries and technological improvements. The Law, it would seem, legitimizes technologies, transforms them into "mainstream" and, thus, into legitimate and immediate concerns of capitalism and capitalists (big business). Again, list is dizzying: antibiotics, rocket technology, internet itself (first developed by Pentagon), telecommunications, medical computerized scanning - and numerous other technologies - came into real, widespread being following an interaction with law. I am using term "interaction" judiciously because there are four types of such encounters between technology and law: