How are people different from computers? Can computers think? The answers to these questions, although seemingly obvious to children, have taxed the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century.
Although computers were originally designed to serve as calculating machines, many of the earliest computer scientists and engineers thought of computers as thinking machines. As far back as the 1950’s there was work on developing computer programs that could play checkers, or chess, or solve calculus problems.
Thinking, however, is a mysterious activity. Scholars have often described thinking not as a process of the brain, but one of the mind. Pioneers of artificial intelligence (AI), following this philosophy, had little interest in how the brain was constructed. They saw the problem of artificial intelligence as that of simulating the mind, an endeavor entirely different from simulating the brain.
A strong analogy was made, identifying the brain as the hardware (or wetware) upon which the software, the symbolic processor of the mind, was executed. This metaphor allowed researchers to take the position that the solution to the problem didn’t necessarily have to mimic nature’s solution, just as in the example of manned flight not involving airplanes that flap their wings to remain aloft. We could bypass the biology and evolution and directly engineer intelligence.
September 7, 2008
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