Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In defense of transparent computationalism

This talk, given on May 5th 2006 in Laval, France at the International Conference on Computers and Philosophy, was originally to be based on a paper I wrote in 1999, but ended up diverging from it substantially.

Abstract of the original 1999 paper:

"A distinction is made between two senses of the claim “cognition is computation”. One sense, the opaque reading, takes computation to be whatever is described by our current computational theory and claims that cognition is best understood in terms of that theory. The transparent reading, which has its primary allegiance to the phenomenon of computation, rather than to any particular theory of it, is the claim that the best account of cognition will be given by whatever theory turns out to be the best account of the phenomenon of computation. The distinction is clarified and defended against charges of circularity and changing the subject. Several well-known objections to computationalism are then reviewed, and for each the question of whether the transparent reading of the computationalist claim can provide a response is considered."

I added to this by claiming that Gödel-style arguments don't show AI is impossible, but rather that the Church-Turing thesis is false. I rejected currently fashionable notions of pan-computationalism in favour of a view that makes having semantic properties essential to computation. I also argued that even if computationalism turns out to be false, it might still be possible for an artificial computational system to have a mind by virtue, at least in part, of the program it is running, since programming a computer not only changes it functionally, but also physically.

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