Of (zombie) mice and animats

In Vincent Müller (ed.), Philosophy and Theory of Artificial Intelligence. Springer. pp. 85-107 (2013)
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The Chinese Room Argument purports to show that‘ syntax is not sufficient for semantics’; an argument which led John Searle to conclude that ‘programs are not minds’ and hence that no computational device can ever exhibit true understanding. Yet, although this controversial argument has received a series of criticisms, it has withstood all attempts at decisive rebuttal so far. One of the classical responses to CRA has been based on equipping a purely computational device with a physical robot body. This response, although partially addressed in one of Searle’s original contra arguments - the ‘robot reply’ - more recently gained friction with the development of embodiment and enactivism1, two novel approaches to cognitive science that have been exciting roboticists and philosophers alike. Furthermore, recent technological advances - blending biological beings with computational systems - have started to be developed which superficially suggest that mind may be instantiated in computing devices after all. This paper will argue that (a) embodiment alone does not provide any leverage for cognitive robotics wrt the CRA, when based on a weak form of embodiment and that (b) unless they take the body into account seriously, hybrid bio-computer devices will also share the fate of their disembodied or robotic predecessors in failing to escape from Searle’s Chinese room.

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John Mark Bishop
Goldsmiths College, University of London


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