The Chinese Room

On: September 24, 2010
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About Xander Stolwijk
Information, electronics, media, marketing, publishing, new media. Xander Stolwijk is a project manager engaged in the design and development of communication systems in new media. During his studies in media and marketing, he translated off- and online publishing products into cross media applications, such as Mijn Volkskrant, a personalised online news service that combines offline media (newspaper) and a virtual news platform. His interest in a theoretical approach led Xander to research new media across a broader spectrum, in which he focused on subject material such as wiki's, social media, mobile media and surveillance. His work experience includes the Mobile Tagging project at the MediaLab Amsterdam, commissioned by Sparked and the employment agency Randstad. This project was organised around the development of an offline QR-campaign linked to the Internet, creating a direct link between physical and virtual space. In this campaign the audience uses their Smartphones to interact with physical space. Xander Stolwijk studied Information and Electronics followed by a course on Media, Marketing and Publishing at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, University of Applied Sciences. He then completed a pre-Master in New Media at the University of Amsterdam. Currently he is a Master of Media at the University of Amsterdam


Friday, 17 september, in Hague’s Korzo5HOOG theater, I, with companion, got immersed in the phantasies of dancer and choreographer Kenneth Flak. Inspired on the thinking experiment ‘The Chinese Room’ placed in the context of the notions of William Gibson’s ‘cyberspace’, the dance performance was a pleasure to behold. Accompanied by the multimedia artist Matsuo Kunihiko and light artist Thomas Dotzler it was a interesting research of Humanity 2.0. In a, on Foucault’s inspired, panoptic setting the audience witnessed the most physically exhausting choreography in an attempt to get the message abroad. The two dancers, Küllie Roosna and the architect of the art piece Kenneth Flak thried to get on top of eachother, using their bodies as tools to form an organic and, I suppose, ‘mechanical’ whole. In the background Matsuo Kunihiko projected images on three screens, molding abstract moving images with webcamvideo’s of chatting people. The climax of the dance performance was that Küllie Roosna produced a horrific loud sound with a device attached to here arm. This device was measuring speed and hight, as a result the sound could be best described as a form of howling. Ofcourse the performance came to me as a little bit ‘dated’ since the inspiration was based on fantasies stemming from the ’90. It did looked like the dancers acted as human/machines, or cyborgs as you will and at times seemed only be in the virtual space of the projection screens. The latter wich reminded me of the movie ‘the Lawnmower Man’ from ’92. And in fact this is where the story in a way returns to the title of the performance, the thought experiment of John Searle.

Turing asked himself if ‘artificial intelligence’ was possible, or better, if an interrogator could be fooled by a computer into thinking that the conversation was with a human. In a reaction on the experiment of Alan Mathison Turing, John Searle reacted with an other experiment he called ‘The Chinese Room’. With this experiment he stated that strong AI couldn’t be possible since the computer ‘computes’ a program, and a person who could also follow the same steps, following instructions of the program, could come up with the same answers as the computer. The argument is, that if the person doesn’t understand Chinese at all (which in this case the person indeed does not), the answering of the Chinese questions could be right since the person uses the program just like the computer does. The role the persons plays and the role of the computer in the experiment are the same. Since the person doesn’t understand Chinese there is also no part of the computer that understands Chinese. Searle states that without ‘understanding’ the computer can’t possibly be accountable for as a machine that is ‘thinking’. It doesn’t have a mind capable of understanding things.

Although Searle’s argument seems plausible there are chatbots designed to simulate an conversation. This year the Artemis chatbot has won ‘The Chatterbox Challenge’ and is downloadable here. But after a while chatting with Artemis, named after a goddes from the Greek mythology, I concluded it wasn’t really an entertaining conversation as she continuously throws the questions back. But there is hope, shown is this entertaining Youtube movie concerning ASIMO’s primitive learning capabilities.

Although the inspiration of Kenneth Flak seemed to me a little bit ‘dated’ at first, after seeing ASIMO doing his tricks I think this will continualy will be a subject of discussion. And, where it apparantely didn’t work in the ’90 despite the effords of Jaron Lanier it seems to me we probably have ‘machines’as ASIMO as companions sooner than we expect.

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