Tag Archives: Battlestar Galactica

The Chinese Room

Back in 1980 John Searle wrote an essay on Artificial Intelligence on a concept he called “The Chinese Room”.  This essay was written a criticism of the Turing test as the De facto test for machine intelligence and brings into question whether something can truly be considered intelligent if it appears to be so to the outside world.

The concept goes like this:  Imagine yourself or another person with no knowledge of the Chinese language is placed in a windowless room with the walls covered in papers with Chinese writing on them (appearing as meaningless squiggles to anyone who doesn’t know better).  They’re given a book that explains, in English, that papers will be posted under the door with Chinese characters written on them, then by consulting the rules laid out in the book and the papers on the wall they write some more Chinese characters on the paper and post it back through.  To anyone on the outside it would seem like the person inside the room can understand Chinese perfectly well, despite them not knowing a single word.  Taking this analogy further if time were somehow sped up inside the room then the responses could come back instantly, perhaps even being verbally returned rather than physically returned.  In the field of Artificial Intelligence this would be a machine, perhaps one human in appearance who responds to forms off interaction verbally, physically and emotionally in a way that would not be distinguishable from a real living human.  But ultimately it’s still a machine that’s only responding according to the way it’s programmed.  Even if some of ways it would respond are randomised to give it more of a personality, perhaps responding more aggressively or even hesitating on certain subjects, it’s still just a machine.  Even if it were to further develop it’s own programming too handle new situations out would be doing ask based on the algorithms it was originally designed with.  So the question becomes where do you draw the line between a very well programmed machine and actual intelligence?

Let’s try another angle.  Suppose someone suffers from an accident in later life and has to relearn how to perform basic actions and social interaction based on a set of rules to ensure they’re responding correctly.  Can they no longer be considered intelligent, or even human, just because they’re following a set of rules on how to behave?  When you think about it, apart from the accident, this isn’t too different from how a lot of us behave anyway.  We all decide how to act based on the situation we’re in and who we’re with at the time.  And we generally act differently at work compared to when we’re at home or with a close group of friends.  The line may be hard to narrow down, but when it gets to the point where something appears intelligent to every form of perception I’d say there’s little reason why it shouldn’t actually be placed on the same side of the lines as ourselves.

This is a subject that’s popped up fairly often in fiction, although it’s rarely referred to by name.  The idea of a machine that wants to be human has become quite the popular trope and has appeared in Isaac Asimov’s novella and short story “The bicentennial man” which tells the story of a robot which fights for the right to be recognised as human.  More recently there’s the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica and constant prejudice against the Cylons who aren’t considered by the humans no matter how human they appear.  On a slightly different note there’s Peter Watts novel “Blindsight” which is high Sci-Fi story about aliens, spaceships, vampires and intelligence told from the perspective of a man who had half his brain removed and is himself a sort of Chinese room.


More details on the Chinese Room argument can be found here:

Blindsight can be read online for free or downloaded in a number of different ebook formats from the following links: 

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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Computing, NaBloPoMo


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Nerdy Show

Today I’m going to talk about my current favourite podcast/community.  It’s simply called Nerdy show and it’s a 2-3 hour weekly (occasionally more frequently) podcast series that, as the name implies, covers a number of very nerdy/geeky topics including video games, comics, webcomics, Minecraft and music, especially of the Nerdcore variety.  They cover several different topics in each episode, usually themed around a central topic such as a recent video game, movie or the like. These are interspersed with some pretty awesome music somewhat related to the topic at hand and generally find their way onto my iPod’s playlist before too long.  Their podcast has only been running since 2009, but they’ve already interviewed quite a few big people in the various industries they cover.  This includes people such as the legendary Rob Paulsen, who’s voiced at least one character in every cartoon you’ve ever loved.  Steve Blum of the supremely gravely voice who’s voiced such well-loved characters as Spike Spiegal of Cowboy Bebop.  Weird Al Yankovic, probably the best known name in parody music.  Mark Waid, writer of a number of well-known comics including an excellent run on “The Flash” and currently doing pretty damn well with Irredeemable over at Boom studios. And many, many music artists, way too many to list here, but it includes names such as The Protomen, FreezePop, Brentalfloss and Adam Warrock. Not only this, but they also run the yearly Nerdapalooza festival, the place to be for anyone who’s anyone in the nerdy music biz.

The thing about Nerdy Show isn’t just the podcast and the guys and girls who produce it. It’s about the community. The sort of community who frequently create works of truly insane magnitude upon their Minecraft server. These include things such as a 1/4 scale of the Battlestar Galactica, featuring a choose your own adventure story to decide whether you’re really a human or a frakking toaster. The SG-1 facility from the Stargate SG-1 TV show with a working Stargate that takes you to straight to Abydos. A recreation of the Serenity from Firefly with all the rooms shown within the show and about a billion different sprites and monuments from various other shows. There’s even a Pompeii villa in there.

But back to the podcast. One of the many things they do includes a monthly Dungeons and Dragons adventure, titled “Dungeons and Doritos”.  They tell the tale of the misadventures of a group of 4 adventures. Vimak, a hulking Goliath weilder of natural magic with a remarkably Russian accent and a wolf-bear companion. Jamela, a Dragonborn cleric with a habit of externally monologuing her actions. Jen’Ifir, a Tiefling Warlock seeking ultimate power and doesn’t mind sacrificing her fellow companions to get it. And finally there’s Chair, a Dwarf who used to be a chair until a wizard got involved. I’m not sure anything I could say could satisfactorily explain Chair, he really needs to be experienced. Later they’re joined by Bartholomew, a dashing swashbuckler and rogue and Lefty, a former pirate queen. Their adventures make up some of the greatest RPG adventures I’ve ever listened to, readily rivalling the Penny Arcade/PvP ones in my opinion. They recently started a new set of adventures from episode 11, so that’s a good jumping off point if you don’t fancy starting right from the beginning.

To sum it up, Nerdy Show is pretty freaking awesome. I’m bit saying everything they produce is brilliant, but that’s been the case so far.  If you’re into anything Nerdy whatsoever you really owe it yourself to listen to it.


The main Nerdy Show page:
Nerdy Show

The most recent Minecraft Build-a-thon, featuring all of the amazing Minecraft creations mentioned above:
Minecraft TV Build-a-thon

Episode 11 of Dungeons and Doritos, a great jumping off point for new listeners:
Dungeons and Doritos

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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Comics, Gaming, Minecraft, NaBloPoMo, Podcasts


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