In James H. Fetzer (ed.), Aspects of AI
. Kluwer Academic Publishers (1988
This essay considers what it means to understand natural language and whether a computer running an artificial-intelligence program designed to understand natural language does in fact do so. It is argued that a certain kind of semantics is needed to understand natural language, that this kind of semantics is mere symbol manipulation (i.e., syntax), and that, hence, it is available to AI systems. Recent arguments by Searle and Dretske to the effect that computers cannot understand natural language are discussed, and a prototype natural-language-understanding system is presented as an illustration.