Can Computers Think?

It’s an interesting question, and one that deserves some thought, especially in this day and age: can computers think? If not, will they ever be able to?

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This question was the main topic in one of my college classes last week. While we, the students, were not force-fed a concrete answer to the question, we were encouraged to think about it and explain why we believe computers can or cannot (or will or will not) have the ability to think. I’ll keep this analysis brief and open it up to everyone else at the end.

So, to start, my answer to the question is this: no, computers cannot think, and they never will be able to, no matter how good technology gets. Now, why do I believe that? The first question that needs to be addressed is how I define “thinking.” One might believe that thinking is simply the ability to process information intelligently, and in this case, one could say that computers do or will have this ability. However, I believe that thinking is more than just this — it also involves rationalizing, philosophizing, understanding, emotion, creativity, things like that. These things do not come merely from chemical reactions firing in the brain; rather, a soul is needed in addition to gray matter.

This is why computers can never truly “think.” Being purely material, not to mention man-made, they cannot have a consciousness or dream up original thoughts. All they can do is process information. Now, obviously, they can do this exceptionally well, and advancements in artificial intelligence have proved helpful in many different fields. Not only have they been helpful, but they’ve also been quite impressive and entertaining. Take, for example, IBM’s Watson.

"I'll make it a true Daily Double, Alex."

“I’ll make it a true Daily Double, Alex.”

Jeopardy! fans should recall the time in 2011 when the supercomputer Watson competed against humans, and won. It’s apparent that A. I. has come a long way and will continue to improve — for good or for ill, but that’s another conversation. The point here is that intelligence certainly can be simulated incredibly well by technology, but because of the absence of a soul, true intelligence in computers will never be possible.

Putting the soul aside for a bit, let me give you a purely logical argument that I learned about in my class. John Searle, an American philosopher, is of the belief that computers cannot truly think, and to illustrate his beliefs, he came up with an analogy known as the Chinese Room.

Here’s how it goes: imagine a man sitting in a room with no windows, but a single door. From outside the room, a person writes messages in Chinese and slides them under the door for the man to respond to. Now, the man has absolutely no understanding of Chinese, but he does have two things in the room to help him: a guidebook written in English which tells him what symbols he should use in his message back to the person outside the room, and a collection of these symbols. For example, an instruction might read: “Take a squiggle from Box 1 followed by a curve from Box 3.” So, he uses these tools to make a response and sends it back under the door. This can go back and forth ad infinitum, and the person outside the room is under the impression that he is speaking to someone who understands Chinese. In reality, however, the man inside the room has no understanding of Chinese; all he has is a guide which tells him what symbols to send back.

The Chinese Room.

The Chinese Room.

This, Searle says, is directly analogous to how a computer works. It is programmed to calculate and execute the desired output for the input, nothing more. It doesn’t understand the information it is processing, and this is why a computer cannot truly be intelligent.

There are arguments against Searle’s thinking, but those are irrelevant to this post. My point is that the Chinese Room is a helpful and interesting analogy for the problem of “thinking computers.”

This, coupled with my personal belief that the soul is necessary for true intelligence, leads me to the conclusion that computers will never be able to think. And for that matter, even if they could, would it be a good idea to develop such technology? Hasn’t anybody read Frankenstein? Or, for that matter, seen or read Jurassic Park? Both of these stories deliver a strong message of the consequences of “playing God,” or trying to duplicate life. We all know how they turned out.

To close, here’s a quote from Jurassic Park:

“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” — Dr. Ian Malcolm

Wise words.

Wise words.

What do you think? Could computers ever truly “think?”

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Adventures in College

Well, college has now taken up a big part of my time, so I thought I’d write a bit about it.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve now been a freshman for five whole weeks. I’m just over a quarter of the way done with my first semester of college. On one hand, tempus fugit, as the saying goes. But on the other hand, when I think back to the first day, I guess it has been a while.

Before entering college, I had many ideas about what it would be like: the workload, the professors, the other students, etc. Most, if not all of them, have been proven wrong, or at least a little different from what I was expecting. I figured it would be fun to go over a few of them!

Idea #1: I will be writing at least one research paper every week.

Reality: Actually, I haven’t written a single research paper yet. Whodathunkit? What’s more, according to my syllabi for my classes, I won’t be writing more than one or two for the entire semester in each one. That’s certainly much less than I was expecting, and pretty welcome, despite the fact that I like writing.

Idea #2: People will be questioning/attacking me about my religion as soon as I walk in the doors.

Reality: Well, I’ve worn my crucifix every single day of classes, but not a single person has insulted me about it or tried to start an argument with me. I’m sure there will be at least some instances of that happening down the line, but so far, it’s been good.

Idea #3: My professors will mostly be boring and not relatable.

Reality: My professors are actually pretty cool overall. Obviously, I like some better than others, but none of them rub me the wrong way, bore me, or seem like they don’t care about my education. *thumbs up*

Idea #4: I won’t enjoy most of my classes.

Reality: I actually enjoy all of my classes! Some more than others, of course, but yes. My favorite it undoubtedly Intro to Media Aesthetics — really geeky stuff about the building blocks of creating good media. It’s awesome!

Not to mention, the building in which I take most of my classes is super cool.

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That’s all the time I have for now — until next week!

In Defense of Bronies and “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”

Let’s just cut right to the chase.

I am a brony.

Once you’ve recovered from your shock, please continue reading. I promise I’m not insane.

All good? Okay.

So, I think by now pretty much everybody is aware of the “brony” phenomenon/controversy. Even if they’re not, I’m sure they’ve at least heard of the My Little Pony franchise, which started back in the 1980s. To give a very short summary, it started out as a toy line and soon spawned TV tie-ins, which included standalone specials, actual shows, and direct-to-video releases. There were three “generations” of the franchise until recently, with Generation 1 beginning in the 80s and Generation 3 in the early 2000s.

Based on a little bit of personal experience (we had a video that came with one of the toys ages ago) along with some research (mainly an hour-long documentary I found on Youtube), I can safely say that the older generations of My Little Pony were what you would think: cartoons aimed squarely at young girls with very little characterization, shallow stories, over-the-top cuteness . . . basically a show that is painful to watch for parents and older siblings.

Those older shows, however, are a thing of the past. In 2010, Hasbro launched a new generation of the My Little Pony franchise on the new Hub Network cable channel (formerly Discovery Kids). The show was headed by Lauren Faust, a veteran of cartoons who is most well-known for her work on Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and The Powerpuff Girls. When given the task to create the new show, she wanted to make something that would be enjoyable for both kids and their parents.

And boy, did she do it.

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The latest generation of the My Little Pony show was called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It was released to mostly positive reviews from critics, and by the end of the first season was the most-watched show on the channel.

The basic premise of the show is this: in the land of Equestria (haha), in the castle at the capital city of Canterlot (haha), a scholastic pony named Twilight Sparkle (basically the Hermione Granger of the pony universe) lives as a student of supreme ruler Princess Celestia. At the beginning of the series, Twilight is sent to the town of Ponyville to learn about the magic of friendship.

Twilight Sparkle and one of her favorite hobbies: reading.

Twilight Sparkle doing one of her favorite hobbies: reading.

The princess gives her this task mainly because Twilight isn’t very skilled at making new friends. She has books, what other friends does she need? But she goes, and she ends up meeting five other ponies: Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy.

Five of the "mane six," as they're referred to by the fandom. From left to right: Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash.

Five of the “mane six,” as they’re referred to by the fandom. From left to right: Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash.

In each episode, one or more of the characters learns an important lesson about friendship, and Twilight reports these to the princess via letters. That’s the very basic overall story, but it gets much more complex than that as it goes along.

If you thought that all of the show’s viewers were little girls and sometimes their parents, you’d be wrong. The show now has a huge fanbase, which is especially prominent on the Internet (I’m sure you’ve seen some pony memes before), and a significant portion of the fanbase is made up of guys. Not just any guys, mind you — teenage and adult guys. They like to call themselves “bronies,” and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain the etymology. (“Brony,” by the way, is now a term used for both male and female fans of the show. Another name for a female fan is “pegasister,” but this isn’t as widely used.)

You’re probably already aware of this phenomenon, but you may be wondering: WHY? Why on earth would grown men be interested in a show targeted at 8-year-old girls? Are they pedophiles or something? Or are they just seriously out-of-wack in the head? And for that matter, are YOU out-of-wack in the head? You said yourself you’re a brony!

Well, to answer, I’ll begin with the story of how I became a brony.

My first exposure to the show was through — you guessed it —  the Internet. I saw pictures from the show, memes, GIFs, all that kind of thing. And on some forums, I read about how guys were watching the show. My thoughts were very skeptical — I mean, a cartoon about ponies? And guys were watching this? Psh. What a joke.

Fast forward through time. One day, I walked into the living room to find my sisters watching a cartoon on Netflix. It didn’t take me long to recognize it as that weird new My Little Pony show. I stared at my sisters.

“You can’t be serious.”

They told me the show was funny, and good. I rolled my eyes and brushed it off.

My sisters continued watching the show pretty often, and occasionally I would catch a glimpse of it. I didn’t see anything that convinced me. But after a while, my sisters started calling me into the room so they could show me a funny clip from the show, most often a facial expression or two. And —  against my will, it seemed — I found myself laughing. Quite hard, actually.

As a result, my thought process changed a bit. Maybe, just maybe, the show was all right. That didn’t mean I was going to actually watch it, though. What would my friends think, especially the guys? Well, they didn’t have to know, but still . . . it was clearly a girls’ show, right? My masculinity was at stake.

Still, though, every now and then my sisters would show me another funny clip . . . and I got more and more interested.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember exactly how or when it happened, but I finally sat down and watched an entire episode with my sisters. Followed by another. And another. And another.

And a couple of weeks ago, I finished the entire currently released series on Netflix.

But WHY? I can almost hear your thoughts right now:

WHY ARE YOU WATCHING THIS JUNK?!

I’ll tell ya.

First of all, it’s not junk. Not in the slightest. The old My Little Pony cartoons had little reason to exist other than to help sell the toys. Not this one, though. Friendship is Magic is a good cartoon — heck, it’s a great cartoon! It’s well-written, it has excellent characters, the voice acting is top-notch, the songs are good (no, seriously, they are — and sometimes they’re REALLY good), the animation is fluid and well-styled, and the show teaches great lessons which can apply both to young girls and to anyone else who watches the show. Honesty. Loyalty. Kindness. Generosity. Laughter. These are the kind of things the show encourages.

Okay, you might be thinking. So it’s supposedly not a junky show. But it’s still made for little girls!

Well, that is true on one hand. But on the other hand, as I said before, Lauren Faust and the whole team behind the show made it with the parents in mind. They created a quality show, and quality tends to transcend traditional lines of what kind of things each gender likes or is supposed to like. I don’t hear anyone complaining when a girl is into boyish things. I wonder why it is that guys are ridiculed for being into more “feminine” things? That’s a larger question, though, and I don’t have the space here to fully address that. The main point is that if something is made well, it’ll often reach past the target audience and find fans from all different walks of life, ages, and genders.

This show is good. It just happens to be about ponies, the majority of whom are female. Once you get past that, you might find (as I did) that it’s quite enjoyable. That does not mean in any way, however, that everyone who watches it will like it. It’s not for everyone, and neither is any other show (or book, or movie). But it’s well-made, and I believe it deserves a chance rather than being blown off as a “little girls’ show.”

The show isn’t perfect — no show is. It tends to be overdramatic on occasion (which is also one of my only gripes with Phineas and Ferb), the lessons learned in each episode are nearly always stated explicitly at the end (which sort of makes sense, considering the target audience), and sometimes the villains who pop up sporadically are rather stereotypical (this is largely made up for, however, by one particular villain named Discord who comes at the beginning of Season 2). But, as with Phineas and Ferb, the pluses of the show definitely outweigh the minuses.

Have I mentioned how funny the show is? It’s brimming with humor, and sometimes it’s downright hysterical. There’s word play (e.g. the cities of Manehattan and Cloudsdale), sly pop culture references, fourth wall breaks, and occasionally pure insanity, just to name a few examples. One of the things that drew me most to the show, though, is the facial expressions of the characters. Let me give you a few examples of what the animators are capable of:

640px-Applejack_bad_poker_face_S01E25

rainbow_dash_i_wub_woo_face_by_flowerjewel-d3a1g2k

Pinkie_Pie_goofy_smile_S4E09

Rarity_'I_love_being_covered_in_mud!'_S4E13

Fluttershy_'very,_very_worried!'_S4E01

Twilight_Sparkle_with_a_bird's_nest_on_her_head_S2E03

And one of my personal favorites . . .

This is a little girls' show?!

This is a little girls’ show?!

I rest my case.

Look, I get it. It sounds weird. I like a cartoon about ponies targeted primarily at little girls. But hey, I’m not alone. As I said, there’s a huge brony fanbase. Many, if not most of them, were probably as skeptical as I was or as you are. But they gave it a shot, and they found that they enjoyed it.

I bet you know what’s coming next. Yes, I want you to give it a chance too.

If you’re a girl, you’re probably okay with giving it a shot. But if you’re a guy, you’re probably backing away slowly right now.

Am I going to shove this down your throat? Absolutely not! I am in no way trying to get you to do something against your will. If you’re not at all interested in trying it, don’t. Simple!

But, if I have managed to pique your interest at least a little, I really think you should try watching it.

The entire currently released series (four seasons) is on Netflix. You can watch in secret. What’s the worst that could happen? You might not be able to watch more than a few minutes. You might get through a whole episode before calling it quits. Or you might find yourself wanting to keep watching.

So, please, if you’re even a little bit interested, I urge you to keep an open mind and just give it a chance. If you don’t like it, IT’S OKAY! I won’t hate you. Pinkie promise.

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But hey, if you do end up liking it, that’s great! Welcome to the herd, as they say.

So. Episode suggestions.

You should probably start with the episode “Lesson Zero” (Season 2, Episode 3). It’s a great introduction to the main character, Twilight Sparkle, and gives you an idea of who all the other main characters are. Plus it’s really funny. You might wonder why I don’t suggest you start at the beginning of the series — well, I want to show you what the series is capable of, so I want to show you some of the best episodes. The two-part pilot is good, but it’s not the best introduction to the show. So anyway, “Lesson Zero.” Start there.

IMPORTANT NOTE. Don’t be put off by the title sequence. Trust me, that’s the girliest part of the show. If you can get through that without gagging, you’ll be just fine.

If you make it through that episode and want to try a little more, watch “May the Best Pet Win!” (Season 2, Episode 7). This episode contains one of the best songs in the series so far. I was blown away when I first saw/heard it (especially the last minute or so). If you’ve watched these two episodes and haven’t given up, try “Feeling Pinkie Keen” (Season 1, Episode 15) next.

It should be noted that you really do need to watch more than just two or three episodes to get a proper sampling of the series as a whole, so if you’re still with me, here’s a few more, in no particular watching order (although I’ll list them chronologically):

  • “Applebuck Season” (Season 1, Episode 4)
  • “Dragonshy” (Season 1, Episode 7)
  • “Sonic Rainboom” (Season 1, Episode 16)
  • “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” (Season 2, Episode 15) (This one has a great musical number that pays homage to “Ya Got Trouble” from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.)
  • “Read It and Weep” (Season 2, Episode 16)
  • “Hurricane Fluttershy” (Season 2, Episode 22)
  • “Too Many Pinkie Pies” (Season 3, Episode 3)

If you’ve watched all of these and still want to try more, just face it. You are now a brony. And you should now just watch in chronological order from the beginning.


Okay, I think that pretty much covers it. Hopefully you don’t think I’m crazy, or feminine, or that I’ve lost my man card or something.

The  main point to take away from all of this is that, yes, the show is made primarily for young girls. But the key word is primarily. It’s a good quality show, and lots of fun, which is why I enjoy it. Just because it’s about colorful ponies doesn’t make it bad.

If you’re feeling brave, give it a shot. Really. Again, if you don’t like it, IT’S OKAY! I don’t want you to watch it if you don’t like it. I just think it deserves a chance. I really do.

All right, I’d better sign off before I ramble too long. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Until next week, friends!

So, it’s been over a month since my last post on here. Not good. Sure, life’s been pretty busy recently, but I think I can still find enough time to write a new post once a week.

So that’s what I’m going to do! Starting Sunday, September 14th, I will be coming out with a new blog post every week!

I’d keep my eyes peeled if I were you. My next one’s going to be pretty big, and possibly even a bit controversial. Stay tuned, dear followers and friends!