Are computers capable of doing what humans can do? It often seems that way. Alan Turing asked a similar question, and proposed the argument that computers can ‘think’. While a computer’s processor isn’t identical to how a human processes thought, machines are able to imitate human thought, according to Turing. There are computers that have passed the Turing test, which is a test of a computer’s ability to show intelligent behavior. In the test, a person has a conversation with two entities, one a computer and the other a human. If the person cannot tell which is the computer and which is the human, the computer has passed the test. It is a pretty impressive feat for a computer to mimic human language so well, and it shows that computers can exhibit human behavior in that way. Human capabilities are not limited to language, however, so a computer has to be able to do more in order to be considered as having human capabilities. Watson, an impressive machine created by IBM, is able to do some amazing human-like things, such as win Jeopardy, create recipes, come up with treatments for diseases, and provide analytics for transportation. All of these feats require cognition, if not something very close. Watson is a great example of how computers are capable of what humans can do.
While computers like Watson may make it seem like computers are able to do what humans can do, this may not be the case. There are many people who have said that computers are great at imitating humans, but that they can’t truly do what we do. Stanley Fish is one of those people, and considers computers to be stupid machines. Fish says that computers perform solely on sets of rules, and they are not able to deviate from those rules. Human beings are always questioning and straying from the rules because we are able to judge the rule in a context. Computers have no concept of context, and work strictly by following the rules of their programs. Sean Kelly and Hubert Dreyfus, who agree that computers can’t really think, point out that computers like Watson are able to ‘think’ only through statistical frequencies in large databases. Watson can’t think with context like we do, but rather searches for patterns and picks out pieces from a huge pile of information. Kelly and Dreyfus also argue that computers are unlike humans in the fact that they lack a body. They cannot interact with the physical world the way we do with sight, sound, and touch. Computers may have cameras, microphones, and sensors, but they do not interact with the world the same way we do, with a context. Computers cannot do what humans do because they have no concept of context and simply follow commands given to them by humans.
There is plenty of information to support that computers can do what we do. I think that it is safe to say that computers can do what we do through imitation, even though they may not work the same way humans do. Watson is able to do several human things. He was able to beat Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy champion. It may be true that Watson doesn’t process thought the same way a human brain does, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that he did what a human can do: win Jeopardy. Watson is also able to do more imaginative things like create recipes. Instead of tasting ingredients and using knowledge from experience to create a recipe, Watson had to use what he ‘learned’ from thousands of recipes, data on cooking chemistry, and measured flavor ratings. Despite the differences in how he did it, Watson was able to imitate human capabilities, and created a recipe for a Spanish crescent. There are computers other than Watson that show human capability by passing the Turing test. These computers have enough language capacity that they are able to trick humans into believing that they too are humans. It may be true that these computers are not processing language the same way we do, and are programmed to follow a set of rules, but they still pass the test. There are lots of computers that are capable of doing what we as humans do, they just do it a bit differently.