Forthcoming in Minds and Machines
Abstract. John Searle's Chinese room argument is perhaps the most influential and widely cited argument against artificial intelligence (AI). Understood as targeting AI proper -- claims that computers can think or do think -- Searle's argument, despite its rhetorical flash, is logically and scientifically a dud. Advertised as effective against AI proper, the argument, in its main outlines, is an ignoratio elenchi. It musters persuasive force fallaciously, by indirection: indirection fostered by equivocal deployment of the phrase "strong AI" and reinforced by equivocation on the phrase "causal powers (at least) equal to those of brains." On a more carefully crafted understanding -- understood as targeting the metaphysical identification of thought with computation ("Functionalism" or "Computationalism") rather than 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" -- believers in AI to acknowledge without undermining their high church beliefs. The ad hominem bite of Searle's argument against the high church persuasions of so many cognitive scientists, I suggest, largely explains the undeserved repute this really quite disreputable argument enjoys among them.
Keywords. Artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computation, Functionalism, Searle's Chinese room argument.
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