The Chinese room argument holds that a digital computer executing a program cannot be shown to have a 'mind', 'understanding' or 'consciousness', regardless of how intelligently or human-like the program may make the computer behave.

The argument was first presented by philosopher John Searle in his paper, 'Minds, Brains, and Programs', published in 'Behavioral and Brain Sciences' in 1980. It has been widely discussed in the years since. The centerpiece of the argument is a thought experiment known as the Chinese room.

Searle's thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that they are talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.

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