Searle and the Chinese Room Argument

David Leech Anderson: Designer
Robert Stufflebeam: Animations, Storyboards
Kari Cox: Animations

MODULE DESCRIPTION: Can a machine be intelligent? Have beliefs? Have a mind? Those who support strong AI and the strongest forms of functionalism argue that a machine with a digital computer and the right kind of computer program could have a mind. One of the most famous (and infamous) attacks on this view is John Searle's "Chinese Room Argument." A series of animations present a virtual version of Searle in his "Chinese room." These animations make it clear how the argument is intended to work, its significance, and its vulnerabilities. Special attention is given to the "Robot Reply," which is a rebuttal to Searle's argument that Searle attempts to refute.



The Chinese Room Argument raises more strong emotions than any other argument in the cognitive sciences. Why? Understanding how the argument is supposed to work will help to explain both why it is so passionately embraced by so many and why it is so passionately reviled by so many others.

Searle and the Chinese Room Argument

The first step is to be clear about how the argument is supposed to work. Here, an animation of the Chinese Room aids one's understanding.

Searle's Robot Reply

One popular response to Searle's argument is to concede that a computer sitting on a desk doesn't genuinely "understand" anything, but to argue that an intelligent robot could understand a language. Explore the "Robot Reply" objection to the Chinese Room argument and Searle's attempt to defeat it.


This module was supported by National Science Foundation Grants #9981217 and #0127561.