Computers Verses Concepts: Can Computers Think?

Traffic computer systems control our sign lighting. Microprocessors direct our automobile engines. Automated controllers run our factories.

And in an insult of kinds, Watson, a successor in spirit to Deep Blue, trounced our human compatriots in Jeopardy.


Computers have permeated our work and our enjoyment, and our lives. This has specifically been for good, improving human society, permitting our development. But we marvel. Do we sense at ease with such a lot of functions carried out utilizing non-questioning machines? Do we threaten something passing off manipulate to green, but non-the-much less essentially mindless, entities?

Or maybe we experience the other; we would not want our computers to think. Otherwise, we, human beings, would possibly lose manage.

So can computers “think?” Would it pose a risk or provide again?

I will discover the one’s questions and do so, as I regularly do with questions of this kind, with a thought experiment.

Poker Chips

Imagine round, plastic poker chips, like you would possibly discover at an online casino. Rather than being imprinted with greenback figures, we stamp each chip with a distinctive variety. The numbers run from one to 20-five thousand. We need such a lot because each chip stands for a word, although for this discussion, we don’t know which one.

Well, we will allow some exceptions. We could have a subset of chips with real words, not numbers. These phrases could be especially prepositions, articles, linking verbs, and so forth. Inclusive of, “is”, “to”, “can” and “from”. This permits us to assemble family members among the numbered chips. For instance, the usage of the phrases and chips, we might have:


“Two” can be “Seventeen” from “Sixty-four.”

That would possibly stand for something inclusive of a chair () may be assembled (seventeen) from wooden (sixty-4). We continue to creation lots, hundreds of lots, of such relations.

We should now be asked questions, including what can a “be “seventeen” from. We could seek through the array of chip expressions, and find our instance expression, a solution “sixty-four.” We might have discovered the proper solution. But we did so now not by using understanding whatever, however, alternatively with the aid of looking through a collection of meaningless chip relationships. We had no concept of what we what speakme approximately. We failed to recognize.

From Symbols to Meaning

What would it take to feature experts to the numbers at the chips?

We may want to translate the chips into phrases. But that is not really an answer, considering that phrases are nonetheless symbols. If we translated the chip numbers into Latin, few people might actually gain any information. In reality, the Latin words in any language area arbitrarily an image as the chip’s range.

Pictures, but, might help. If a dozen or so photographs of a chair were connected to chip number two, we might begin to understand. “Two” would begin to have meaning.

We can envision persevering with the manner throughout hundreds, lots, of the chips, associating each with pics, a movie, or a legitimate, or an odor, or maybe a hint sensation (warm, bloodless, sharp, soft, and many others). Our information could make bigger.

At a few factors, understanding the concepts related to every chip could require greater than pictures. “Push” may be a movie of a person together with their shoulder to a wardrobe moving the wardrobe. That can also or won’t be interpreted efficiently. But via this point, we would have constructed know-how of an amazing number of the chips, so the film might be supplemented by way of the sentence “to push ” to transport an object. This can be done by walking while having your frame towards the object.”

We ought to keep building ideas upon concepts in an equal way. Once we reached a sufficient base, perhaps while we got thru the first ten thousand chips, we could really step as much as to address the chips that represented phrases like “justice” and “fact.”

So finally, we could educate ourselves the “which means” of all the twenty 5-thousand chips. We could recognize.

But could we teach a computer so that it might “apprehend?”

The Role of Experience


Yes, and no.

Yes, because like our human above, a laptop can without difficulty accomplice photos, films, sounds, smells, touches to a symbol. Certainly, the pc would need many unique components, together with specialized sensors, optimized processors, big reminiscence shops, and custom software. But we don’t imagine this as outlandish. We can photograph a humanoid robotic, with suitable sensors in the human’s ears, eyes, nostrils, finger hints, and so forth, related wirelessly to the laptop complex needed to process all that statistics.

As sophisticated as the Watson of Jeopardy fame is, such a robot could be a technology, perhaps, beyond Watson. Watson works at the extent of word affiliation, essentially linking our numbered chips. Watson has assimilated billions of associations among the one’s chips, however nowhere does it seem Watson buddies a chip/phrase with anything aside from another wide variety chip or an occasional photograph or sound.

Our robot is going beyond that. It would not be just accomplice “chairs” with “four legs.” Our robotic learns by sitting on real chairs; in fact, we’ve it sit down on dozens of chairs of all different sorts, steel ones, timber ones, plastic ones, tender ones, difficult ones, squeak, springy ones. And as this happens, the robot’s sensors collect sounds, sights, feels, smells at tiers and precisions nicely beyond human beings. All the even as the robotic and its computers are building associations upon associations.

And we repeat the process with tables, then with beds, then dressers, and the entire variety of furnishings. We then move to table items (paper, books, pens, erasers), then to kitchen gadgets, restroom items, workbench items, then circulate outside, and on and on.

When it has a sufficient understanding of the poker chips, we train it to apply the net. The variety of associations explodes.

We then upload in critical detail, evaluative software program. This software program permits for judgments, and comparisons, and balancing of exchange answers, and so on. We have evaluation modules for many elements of the sector, for engineering, for ethics, for aesthetics, for social dynamics.

We then send our robot/computer out into the arena, shop, tour, wait for college, and paintings, construct besides and deeper institutions, and music the assessment modules.

Let’s say the schooling progresses for a decade. Would our robotic now apprehend?

Yes, and no.

Yes, in that the pc would have an affiliation mapping as rich and complicated as human beings and make judgments with those associations. For instance, permit’s ask the robot/computer, “could you pressure a freight to teach on a highway, and why?”

If we requested Watson, I surmise it would stumble. Watson could locate many institutions between highways and freight handling and trains’ associations as a car and that motors (vans, automobiles) journey on highways. It would find many citations that trucks trip on trains and train containers experience on trucks.

In contrast, Watson might only see few mentions that the wheels on a train would damage the dual carriageway and that the wheels couldn’t achieve sufficient traction on the road floor to travel beneath manage.

So Watson could be confronted with nice conflicting institutions relative to freight trains and highways, and at worst warning signs the trains and highways are well matched.

Watson would then, in all likelihood, falter with the words “might you” and “why.” Those don’t name for a fact, but as an alternative, a judgment and Watson cannot clearly examine, it can best partner.

In assessment, our robot might trap the cause of the question. We gave our robot the capability to assess, and the phrase “could” would explicitly cause the assessment modules. Watson would run via all of them, as an example considering ethics, efficiency, and economics; however, it might reach a technical valuation primarily based on engineering.

In pretty quick order (a few seconds) or maybe long order (a couple of minutes), our robot/pc could calculate the weight stresses of the train wheels at the asphalt and urban, and the lateral friction among the metallic and the street. The robot might see that the focused load from the train wheels would exceed the road material’s sporting capability and see that friction among the wheels and the road surface would be inadequate to provide traction and lateral management.

Our robotic could accordingly respond that it would now not power a teach on a highway since the train could fail in crucial mechanical components.

Could our robot honestly do such engineering calculations? Computers do them automatically now. But these days, people configure the problem for the computer, so should our robotic convert our query to the vital mechanical setup. Yes, changing a bodily item or system into an abstract pressure diagram may be daunting, but it isn’t mystery or magic. Making force diagrams can be converted into a set of rules or a set of algorithms, and algorithms may be programmed right into a laptop.

So our robot thinks? Yes. But does it “apprehend”?


The robot lacks attention. For all the capability of the robotic to associate and evaluate, the robotic isn’t always aware. Why do I say that? Long tale quick (and a dialogue of pc awareness could be lengthy), our robot of the close to destiny will have microchips of conventional structure. These microchips may be very speedy, can be very state-of-the-art, and maybe a product of exotic semiconductors, but they will be extensions of ultra-modern architectures, however. In my view, such chips, even thousands put together, do now not have the right configuration to generate awareness.

So, agree or not, permit’s posit that our robot isn’t always conscious. And the focus is probably the key to going past thinking to mean. We recognize a chair not because we have digitally saved a sensor size of a 3/8 inch deflection in a cushion. We understand a chair because we revel in it and a holistic enjoy, not a set of mechanical sensor readings. Our robot has lots of reminiscence registers associating digitized images to a chair, but not a single holistic enjoy.

Thinking Computers

So, our robot can suppose, but it would not understand. It has intelligence. However, it does have a sense of what that means. And that is as it lacks recognition.

So now to the other part of our query, will we want our computer systems to assume?

Numerous movies – Eagle Eye (2008), I Robot (2004), The Terminator series (1984 and later) – have computer systems that suppose. In an ordinary Hollywood style, the “questioning” of those computers, though nicely-intentioned, reasons them to veer down accidental paths, to start to think they may be smarter than people, however to the detriment of people. We truely do not need one form of wondering computer systems.

Isaac Asimov, in his extended fictional writing on robots, changed into now not nearly so pessimistic. His 3 laws of robotics kept the robots on a more fantastic and controlled course.

Data, on Star Trek, stands as an even extra high-quality view of a robotic, even altruistic to a fault. But he changed into offset through the Borg, a cyber-organism of driven willpower, to assimilate each civilization. The Borg may want to suppose absolute confidence but had been thoughtless of their destructiveness.

Which sort of pics from fiction may be our future?

I lean towards none of them. Watson, and then the 2nd technology of Watson, just like the robot pictured right here, will possibly affect human society more insidiously, economically. Will that monetary impact vault us forward or backward? Will we have a Star Trek-like Camelot with computer systems releasing us for amusement and human development, and could wondering computer systems displace our significant collection of statistics employees consigning the formerly well-employed to low paying jobs. Utopia or Matrix-like enslavement, which might question computer systems bring?

John R. Wright
Social media ninja. Freelance web trailblazer. Extreme problem solver. Music fanatic. Spent several months marketing pubic lice in the financial sector. Spent 2002-2008 supervising the production of ice cream in Africa. Had some great experience developing robotic shrimp in the aftermarket. Spent several years getting my feet wet with puppets in Miami, FL. Was quite successful at supervising the production of corncob pipes worldwide. What gets me going now is working with electric trains in Mexico.