Artificial Intelligence and Personal Identity

David J. Cole
University of Minnesota Duluth

John Searle's "Chinese Room" argument shows that no computer will ever understand English or any other natural language. But I show how this is consistent with the computer's causing a new entity to exist (a) that is not identical with the computer, but (b) that exists solely in virtue of the machine's computational activity, and (c) that does understand English. My argument is inspired by considerations raised by John Locke and his successors (Grice, Quinton, Parfit, Perry and Lewis) in discussion of personal identity, a branch of metaphysics not obviously related to AI. This line of reasoning reveals the abstractness of the entity that understands, and so the irrelevance of the fact that the hardware itself does not understand. Thus, I believe, Searle's argument fails completely to show any limitations on the present or potential capabilities of AI.