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Chinese room

A thought experiment developed by John Searle. It attempts to show that computers cannot 'understand' things in the same way that humans do, instead, they just carry out commands in a way that appears intelligent.

The experiment says that a person is put in a room containing a book in English that lists all the steps a computer undergoes to carry out a conversation in Chinese with a native speaker, as well as paper and other materials. The person receives Chinese characters through a hole in the door, and by following the instructions given in the book, eventually returns a reply in Chinese. Despite being able to reply (albeit slowly) in Chinese, the person inside the room cannot be said to actually understand any Chinese.

Searle argues that computers essentially follow this same pattern, mindlessly following an algorithm to give an answer, and so they too cannot be said to understand anything.

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