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There is common view of the mind as being like a computer. On this view, the primary role of the mind is to receive and process information. Specifically, the mind takes in various sensory (what we get from our senses), psychological (feelings and moods), and linguistic (using a written and spoken language) information and processes this information into what we understand as our experience. Indeed, current work in artificial intelligence seeks to mimic as closely as possible this human mental processing with the hope that one day computer programs will have something like conscious awareness.
But is this analogy correct?
Consider the following two-part thought experiment:
Imagine that a robot is built that you can have intelligent conversations with in your native language (the language you were born into). The computer program uploaded into the robot is able to take in the information it receives from you, translate it with an algorithm, and provide outputs in the form of words, phrases, and sentences. By any modest measure, the robot passes the Turing Test.
Now, also consider this: you are asked to translate certain words, phrases, and sentences from an alien language into your native language. You are given a translation manual that will tell you what letters and symbols in the alien language correspond with the letters and symbols in your native language. It’s hard and time consuming, but you slowly start to produce translations. However, if you were asked to have a conversation with an alien to whom the language belongs, you couldn’t do it.
In the first example, do you think the robot is “conscious” in a way that is more-or-less consistent with human consciousness? If so, why? If not, why? And thinking about the first and second examples together, what is similar or different in the two cases? That is, is the process you are performing to create the outputs (i.e., the translations) similar or different to what the robot is doing in order to have intelligent conversations with you? If they are similar, how so? If something is different, what is it?
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