, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 199-226

Searle's Chinese Box: Debunking the Chinese Room Argument

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Abstract

John Searle's Chinese room argument is perhaps the most influential andwidely cited argument against artificial intelligence (AI). Understood astargeting AI proper – claims that computers can think or do think– Searle's argument, despite its rhetorical flash, is logically andscientifically a dud. Advertised as effective against AI proper, theargument, in its main outlines, is an ignoratio elenchi. It musterspersuasive force fallaciously by indirection fostered by equivocaldeployment of the phrase "strong AI" and reinforced by equivocation on thephrase "causal powers" (at least) equal to those of brains." On a morecarefully crafted understanding – understood just to targetmetaphysical identification of thought with computation ("Functionalism"or "Computationalism") and not AI proper the argument is still unsound,though more interestingly so. It's unsound in ways difficult for high church– "someday my prince of an AI program will come" – believersin AI to acknowledge without undermining their high church beliefs. The adhominem bite of Searle's argument against the high church persuasions of somany cognitive scientists, I suggest, largely explains the undeserved reputethis really quite disreputable argument enjoys among them.