We begin by asking whether machines can think, and discover that this question has many dimensions. The idea that thought is in some ways mechanical will provide surprising insights into human psychology, but at the same time raises many philosophical questions.
We will begin with a classical paper written in 1950 by Alan Turing, which argues forcefully that there are no fundamental differences between human and computer mentality. This paper raises two questions, which we will pursue in some detail.
Turing avoids the question of whether computers can think, asking instead if the performance of an intelligent human could be simulated by a computer. But we can turn this question around: can we use the idea that thought is computation to understand human cognition? This question leads us to look at the field known as cognitive psychology. By looking in detail at the idea of a cognitive architecture, we will see that computational models can explain a great deal about human thought. If that is so, the similarity between human and computer thinking runs very deep.
Why, then, is it so hard to produce a computer program that successfully simulates an intelligent human being? We will look at several case studies from the field of Artificial Intelligence to see why this has turned out to be much harder than many people expected.
All along, and especially in the second half of the course, we will be asking how these things relate to issues that are debated in philosophy. The main question, which has been framed in many different ways, is whether the mechanical approach to mind leaves out something that is importantly and distinctively human.
The requirements for the course will include regular short exercises, two papers, and a final examination.
The content of this course will be about one-third computer science, one-third psychology, and one-third philosophy. Students who sign up for the course should be prepared for that.
This course may count toward the BBCS cognate requirement, though students would need to request this exception with an advisor for their major.
There will be three hours of lecture and one hour of discussion per week.