The Chinese room is a thought experiment presented by John Searle. It supposes that there is a program that gives a computer the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation in written Chinese. If the program is given to someone who speaks only English to execute the instructions of the program by hand, then in theory, the English speaker would also be able to carry on a conversation in written Chinese. However, the English speaker would not be able to understand the conversation. Similarly, Searle concludes, a computer executing the program would not understand the conversation either.
The experiment is the centerpiece of Searle's Chinese room argument which holds that a program cannot give a computer a "mind", "understanding" or "consciousness", regardless of how intelligently it may make it behave. The argument is directed against the philosophical positions of functionalism and computationalism, which hold that the mind may be viewed as an information processing system operating on formal symbols. Although it was originally presented in reaction to the statements of artificial intelligence researchers, it is not an argument against the goals of AI research, because it does not limit the amount of intelligence a machine can display. The argument applies only to digital computers and does not apply to machines in general.
Searle's argument first appeared in his paper "Minds, Brains, and Programs", published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980. It has been widely discussed in the years since.
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