Can Computers Think? Essay, Research Paper
Can Computers Think?
In order to answer this question thinking must first be defined. Thinking is something that most scientists still don’t have a concrete definition of. The human brain is a very complex entity and we still don’t completely understand what happens when thoughts are processed. Scientists know that the brain is comprised of neurons that send signals to each other but the actual details are still not known. Bearing this in mind it is very hard to say whether or not something is thinking without a clear definition. The best I can do is to offer my own definition of thinking. I say thinking involves taking in information, making decisions, and being able to learn. Given this definition, it is my opinion that computers can think. Computers can take in information, make decisions, and they are beginning to learn.
Comparing, ordering, remembering, storing, duplicating, choosing, These are all actions that require some thought process. Computers can do all these things, and while comparing a 1 against a 2 may not seem like a big deal, it does require a thought process. The computer must know the value of what is comparing, then use judgment to decide which one is bigger, and which one is smaller. And computers can do much more than compare two numbers. They can compare letters, words, phrases, and more.
To see computers thinking you can simply go to an internet search engine, such as yahoo.com. Yahoo accepts information when you type in your search criteria. For example, lets say you want to search for information on artificial intelligence. You type in “artificial intelligence” into the text box and Yahoo takes that text and compares it to the text of millions of pages located in it’s database. It locates the pages that contain information that matches your search and displays those pages in order according to the closest match. Yahoo has just done many things that involve thinking. It has compared your search criteria with the contents of millions of web pages. Yahoo has ranked these comparisons according to the closest match, and it has ordered these pages according to rank. Comparing, ordering, and ranking all require thinking. And these are all tasks that the computer is able to do. This may not seem like very complex thinking, but never the less these simple tasks do require thinking.
When you take what the computer is exactly doing it may not seem very much like thinking at all. The computer uses a set of rules to determine the order of things, and to compare things. It assigns a value to what it is comparing then orders the items. When looked at in detail it may not seem like thinking at all, but when you take a step back and look at what the computer is actually doing, it does look like thinking. The computer is able to find what you want buy the words you type. Human thought might not seem so advanced when taken down to a low level. If you were able to look at every single thing that happens when a person processes a simple thought, like comparing two things, it may not look very much like thinking either. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly what goes on, every detailed step that goes into comparing two things in the human brain, so how can we compare the step by step process that a computer takes to do a simple task, to the overall process that a person takes to accomplish a simple task? We can’t, so we have to compare what the computer can do against what a person can do. So comparing two things seems like thinking to me, and a computer can do this.
Searching through millions of pages of text is not the only thing that computers can do. Computers can also learn to recognize voice. When you get a voice recognition program you have to teach the computer your voice. By saying words the computer tunes it’s ears to your voice so that it can recognize what you are saying. This requires some thinking. People also have to learn to recognize voice. When a person is a baby, voices don’t make much sense. When you say “goo goo gaga” to a baby, it doesn’t know the difference between that and “are you hungry?”. It all sounds like noise, until the baby learns that certain sounds mean certain things. Same with a computer, certain sounds mean certain words. Now, I am not going to argue that the computer understands the meaning of what you say, but it can understand what words you are saying.
You have probably heard of the IBM super computer Deep blue and how it beet the chess master Garry Kasparove. I doubt I could beet him, and most other people couldn’t either. But this computer did. Each time Garry made a move the computer searched through millions and millions of possible moves (up to 200 million per second) and picked the best one. Now, that probably doesn’t sound like your typical idea of thinking, but if you look at what the computer did in detail, I think you will see various traits that we do when we think. First of all the computer searches through it’s huge database of information. This is much like when we search our memory. Next the computer analyzes and compares various moves, we compare things all the time. Then the computer picks the best move from these comparisons.
Another area where you can find examples of computers thinking is in computer games. Games utilize “intelligent” strategies. This helps to create a more enjoyable gaming experience. Some games can develop different strategies to make game play more realistic and challenging. For example if you die in a level of the game and you restart that level, you might think you will already know what to look out for because you have already played part of that level, but the computer can remember that you played and can change the games variable to make it more difficult for you.
Sony has recently developed an artificial pet named AIBO. It’s a robot that resembles a dog. AIBO is able to learn and its intelligence grows and develops just as a real dogs does. When you first get AIBO it is in its “infant stage”. Sony’s web site describes this stage:
AIBO can learn through patient reinforcement and praise from you. For instance, if you scold AIBO while it is looking at a ball, it will soon figure out that it is not a good idea to do so. Once AIBO starts to dislike balls, AIBO may show you signs that it is in a bad mood whenever there is a ball around. At times, AIBO may even get mad and bark. On the other hand, if you praise AIBO while it is looking at a ball, AIBO will learn that balls are fun to be around and will probably increasingly like playing with them. The things that AIBO learns through your guidance become part of its personality, making your AIBO unique from every other.
AIBO goes through different stages of development where it learns to walk, play fetch, sit, and so on. The robot is equipped with a optic camera so it can see its way around. Even though this robot can only do simple tasks it represents the future of Artificial Intelligence.
Computers are a long way from thinking like humans, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t think. A dog can’t think like a human, neither can a cat, but this doesn’t mean that they are not thinking. One argument against the idea that computers can think is the Turing test. Alan Turing developed a test back in the 1950’s to test for intelligence. The test consists of a person in one room and a computer in another. Both interact with a third person. The third person is supposed to ask both the computer and the person questions and from the answers he is supposed to be able to tell who is the human and who is the computer. Today, a computer doesn’t exist that could pass the Turing test. This does not mean that computers can’t think. The problem with the Turing test is that is tests for Human intelligence, and not just intelligence. Only a human can pass this test. A monkey, which most people would agree is intelligent, would not pass the test. An infant human would not pass the test either.
Another argument against Artificial Intelligence is the Chinese Room. This example goes like this: If a human is sitting in a room with no interaction with the outside world and he is handed Chinese characters he will never learn what these characters mean. This human represents computers and the characters represent the information that passes through them. It’s true, computers probably don’t understand what we pass through them. They just process the information. But while they process this information they are doing tasks that require thinking such as ordering, ranking, copying, and remembering. Same with the human from the Chinese Room, he doesn’t know what the characters mean, but this does not mean that he is not thinking.
Marvin Minskey (MIT) wrote an essay entitled “Why People Think Computers Can’t Think”. In it he discusses various arguments about the issue. In one part he makes this point:
It is too easy to say things like, “Computer can’t do (xxx), because they have no feelings, or thoughts”. But here’s a way to turn such sayings into foolishness. Change them to read like this. “Computer can’t do (xxx), because all they can do is execute incredibly intricate processes, perhaps millions at a time”. Now, such objections seem less convincing — yet all we did was face one simple, complicated fact: we really don’t yet know what the limits of computers are. Now let’s face the other simple fact: our notions of the human mind are just as primitive.
We are just beginning to understand computers. New programming techniques are being developed all the time. We are creating faster and better technology constantly. It seems that as soon as you buy a computer is becomes obsolete because of the new technological innovations. We have only been working with computers for a short time (50 years or so) and the tasks that they can accomplish seem to grow exponentially. Who knows what we will develop in the next few years to make computers even more useful. The more we understand the human mind and the more we understand computers the closer we will get to “Human Intelligence”. Right now we are seeing the tip of the Artificial Intelligence iceberg.
“WHY PEOPLE THINK COMPUTERS CAN’T”
Marvin Minsky, MIT
“Intelligent Computers? We Still Have A Long Way To “Go,” Says Professor”
University of Misouri-Rolla
“The Alan Turing Home Page”
“Stewart Dean’s Guide to Artificial Life”
Sony – AIBO homepage