A Philosophical Exploration

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Date(s) - Saturday, April 22, 2017
10:30 am - 12:45 pm

Lit and Phil


When: Saturday 13 May 2017, 10.30 am – 12.30 pm

Where: The Literary & Philosophical Society (Lit & Phil), Lecture Room, 23 Westgate Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SE.

Whilst in general our meetings will be held at the Lit & Phil (with a few exceptions), the room itself within the building will switch between the Lecture Room, the Loftus Room, and occasionally, the Reference (aka Silence) Room.


For a brief description of the aims of this group, please refer to: http://newphilsoc.org.uk/wpress/?page_id=20 – this would be particularly useful for newcomers.

An introduction to the theme for the session is given at the start of the meeting; it may be difficult to participate in the discussion without that context. Please aim to arrive shortly before the start time, so that we can begin the session promptly.

Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program? 

Searle’s ‘Chinese Room’ and Artificial Intelligence

Back in 1980 (in the early days of home computers), John Searle published his Chinese Room thought experiment to show that computer programs are not sufficient for minds. For Searle a mind must have content (semantics) while programs are formal (syntactic).  In the Chinese Room, a man who understands no Chinese is still able to answer questions put to him by following a book of rules (a program) and fools an expert outside into believing that the man in the room must understand Chinese.

This is probably the most discussed argument about AI and there have been many papers published on it with no consensus of opinion. Searle’s argument is very relevant in today’s fast moving technological age where Apple have given us Siri that one can ask questions of, via a Smartphone; IBM have produced Watson that can win quiz game shows; and we have driverless cars being tested on our roads.  Do these AIs think? Have they or could they have minds?

Reading for the session

The following resources available on the internet may prove useful when preparing for the session:

An article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the Chinese Room Argument:   https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-room/

A Wikipedia article on the Turing Test (which refers to a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour, making it indistinguishable from that of a human):   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

A concise Open University cartoon depiction of the Chinese Room argument on YouTube:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TryOC83PH1g


There is a £2 charge for waged attendees to cover room costs. There is no charge for unwaged or new attendees.

Attachments area

Preview YouTube video The Chinese Room – 60-Second Adventures in Thought (3/6)

The Chinese Room – 60-Second Adventures in Thought (3/6)








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