Adventures in College: Sophomore Surprise

So, much to my amazement, I am coming close to the midway point in the first semester of my sophomore year in college.

I guess Nationwide was right when it said “life comes at you fast.”

Now, at first, I was a bit apprehensive about my second year. I’d seen memes and stuff like this before:

635584090787347110-672050361_sophomore slump

But I’ve actually been rather surprised by how my own sophomore year is turning out thus far. Overall, I’d say it’s shaping up to be even better than my freshman year. I feel significantly less on edge this semester, and I’m finding more time to myself and to be with my friends on campus than I did last year.

I think part of it has to do with the fact that two of my classes this semester are online, which allows me to work at a steadier pace — I don’t even have to be on campus for class on Fridays! I’m also sure it has to do with the classes I’m taking; I haven’t written a single research paper yet, and to my knowledge, I won’t be writing very many at all (although I will have other big writing assignments, like scripts).

This is most definitely a welcome change of pace. But . . .

. . .

Wait a minute . . .

. . .

. . . did I just jinx it?

. . .

I just jinxed it, didn’t I?

. . .

. . . Darn.

Now wouldn’t it be hilarious if I wrote another post in a few weeks complaining about how complacent I had gotten?

. . .

To be continued. Possibly.

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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?

computerthink

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?”

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.

New 23 002

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