I propose to consider the question "Can machines think?"

The start of a challenging and very readable article written in 1950, in the journal Mind, by Alan Turing, one of the founding fathers of computer science. (The article 's title is "Computing machinery and intelligence".)

The first thing it does is replace the title question with another, one that Turing considers more useful to study: what would a machine have to do before we would no longer be able to distinguish it from a thinking person? He proposes an experimental setup now known as the Turing test.

But we merely define specific physical interactions as storage, sensory input, output, etc. If one truly wanted to apply metaphilosophy to this one could say that sensory input is merely one long complex interaction, defined by relatively simple principals. somewhat similar to the conduction of electricity in a metal. Just an interaction of various wavefunctions. Heck one could even go so far as to say that we are all just part of a large continuous interaction between various different manifestations of energy. If one wanted to apply a simplistic analogy to it, one could thing of the game the incredible machine, where a single simple action causes a chain reaction which has a final result, and an initial input which are both relatively simple, but goes through the complex interactions as mentioned above.

Also just because someone wrote a book on it doesn't make it the absolute truth. We must always question our foundations of knowledge.

This is one of the many qustions that the field of Cognitive Science tries to answer.

The first thing you have to do is define 'thought'. Good luck, because that's really the tricky part.

As a CogSci major myself, I've found out enough to know that things are not cut-and-dry either way. My own idea is that certain properties of 'thinking', such as sensations, beliefs, logical chains, causal occurences, are all multiply realizable. That means, though they may have one physical form in one being (John), they might have rather different forms in a different being (Sally). And they can still be the same thing. That is, even though detection of causal occurence might be indicated by certain neural patterns in John's head, those patterns might be different in Sally's head.

This idea stretches over everything. Most obviously, it can be applied to computers. What is pain? Is there something that serves the prupose of pain in a computer? To answer this, you have to define 'pain' as abstractly as possible. That's a trick, too.

Can my computer think? I doubt it very much. Can a Cray computer think? Probably not. How about a Cray whose been programmed in a very specific way? Uh.... Or how about a hypothetical cybernetic neural network? Can that think?

We will see thinking machines in our lifetime. I'll bet dollars to donuts the idea won't even shock you in, say 15 years. We'll probably see it within 20. And those numbers are probably pessimistic.

Scientific knowledge is going to increase at a blistering pace over the next few decades, and Cognitive Science will go even faster than most. It is a very wide field, from psychology, biology, and neurology to computer science, physics, and linguistics. An advance in any of these fields will yield startling progress in CogSci. Thinking machines are coming, and soon.

Should be interesting.

If solipsism is to be believed, then the machine can think only what you, yourself thinks. There is an irony here, because throughout history we have programmed the computer and therefore decide what it does and doesn't "think" so the idea of computers being able to think has been solipsistic from the beggining. However, the question begins to hinge as computers progress on whether you believe in solipsism, because soon the computers will be programming themselves, and at that point it is no longer so clear. It is sad that the idea of whether or not computers can become sentient may be based on something as weak foundationalism.

References: solipsism, epistemology, foundationalism

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