Machine understanding and the chinese room

Philosophical Psychology 1 (2):207 – 215 (1988)
John Searle has argued that one can imagine embodying a machine running any computer program without understanding the symbols, and hence that purely computational processes do not yield understanding. The disagreement this argument has generated stems, I hold, from ambiguity in talk of 'understanding'. The concept is analysed as a relation between subjects and symbols having two components: a formal and an intentional. The central question, then becomes whether a machine could possess the intentional component with or without the formal component. I argue that the intentional state of a symbol's being meaningful to a subject is a functionally definable relation between the symbol and certain past and present states of the subject, and that a machine could bear this relation to a symbol. I sketch a machine which could be said to possess, in primitive form, the intentional component of understanding. Even if the machine, in lacking consciousness, lacks full understanding, it contributes to a theory of understanding and constitutes a counterexample to the Chinese Room argument.
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DOI 10.1080/09515088808572939
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Michael Polanyi (1958). Personal Knowledge. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

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