Turing, Searle, and the Wizard of Oz

Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 14 (2):88-102 (2010)
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Since the middle of the 20th century there has been a significant debate about the attribution of capacities of living systems, particularly humans, to technological artefacts, especially computers—from Turing’s opening gambit, to subsequent considerations of artificial intelligence, to recent claims about artificial life. Some now argue that the capacities of future technologies will ultimately make it impossible to draw any meaningful distinctions between humans and machines. Such issues center on what sense, if any, it makes to claim that gadgets can actually think, feel, act, live, etc. I outline this debate and offer a critique of its persistent polarization. I characterize two of the debate’s major camps (associated roughly with Turing and Searle); argue that the debate’s structure (including key assumptions inherent to each camp) precludes resolution; and, contend that some central clashes within the debate actually stem from an inadequately drawn distinction between claims about the capacities of artifacts and claims about the proper criteria for assessing such attributions. I offer a different perspective in which I: challenge some central elements of the debate that contribute to its perennially irresolvable state; hold that the debate needs to be placed more squarely in sync with how we in fact treat the attribution of such capacities to humans themselves; and, offer (unlike the other two camps) a foothold for making moral assessments of such proposed technologies.



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