Can a robot think?

By admin
robot thinking

We are surrounded by smart devices. Any product presented in TV commercials should have some AI functions, otherwise is not worth our attention. We expect that some level of reasoning is performed by those machines, making choices on their own. What does this means?

Can a robot think?

Thinking is the primary action performed by our brains, and still it is something very difficult to give a proper definition. Thinking is the process of considering or reasoning about something, the action of using your mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories, etc.

Thinking is the natural capacity of some biological being to give meaning to symbols: associate semantic sense to plain syntax.

And what about robots? Are they able to think in a similar way as we do?

In 1980 John R. Searle addressed this problem with the famous Chinese Room argument.

Suppose you are in a closed room which has two slots. From the slot 1 somebody gives you Chinese characters which you don’t recognize as words ie. you don’t know what these small chinese characters mean. You also has a huge rulebook which you use to construct another Chinese characters from those that were given to you producing a correct answer to the input, and finally you split these new characters out of the slow 2.

In its essence, this is just like a computer program which has an input, it computes something and finally splits an output. The rulebook is such that people outside this room can discuss with you in Chinese. For example, they send you a question ‘how are you’ and you, following the rulebook, would give a meaningful answer. So far, the computer program simulates human being which understands Chinese.

From the outside of the chamber people could say that inside the chamber for sure there is someone that understand Chinese. Even if you, inside the room, would not understand a word of what is going on. You are just following rules, not understanding Chinese.

Robots are just like the Chinese room, they produce some useful output for their outside users, but on their inside they do not have a clue of what’s going on. They do not understand, they just apply some rules and manipulates some symbols.

This is related to the problem of consciousness: only conscious being have the ability to assign meaning to rules and symbols.

For this reason, when we talks about machines,  it’s difficult to address the problem of Thinking, it’s more correct to talk about Acting.

Thinking is an internal process, which as we have seen does not make much sense for machines. Acting is an external process, which we can use to evaluate how machines interact with the environment. So it’s not very important what’s happing inside the robot, as long as it carry out some useful task with respect to our expectations.

For this reason Machine Thinking or Artificial Intelligence is often represented with the following grid:

RationalThinking Rationally: this is what’s going on inside the Chinese chamber, not real thinking, just applying some rational set of rules.Acting Rationally: where we are today. Robots operate in the environment and carry on some tasks in a useful way.
HumanThinking Humanly: not possible for machines. Only humans have the ability to give meaning to rules.Acting Humanly: where we want to go. Robots carry on some tasks as humans would do.