March 2007

Searle's Pointless Room

I see long discussions on John Searl's Chinese Room thought experiement, and I still fail to see why anyone should spend time on it. The experiment tells us nothing.

In essence, the experiment has us force a human to perform a menial, mindless role in a larger machine. The role of identifying symbols, processing them according to rules and transferring the results to the outside world is something we already know a computer can do--mindlessly. So why would we expect a human performing those actions to have to understand anything in order to play that role?

Searle's experiment purports to comment on the Turing test and whether any machine can exhibit understanding, but all he's illustrated is that you can subdivide a large intelligent system into smaller ones that perform according to fixed rules and have no understanding of what they manipulate. Any surprise there? Having split the apparently intelligent room into a thinking part (the reference/algorithm) and a purely mechanical communication part (the man in the room), Searle focusses on the tediously boring and obviously unintelligent part. The man is a distraction: "Ooh look, there's a man in there, but he doesn't understand any of the symbols!"

I wish Searle had spent more of his time on the thinking part rather than misleading people with pointless arguments focussed on mechanical processes.

March 2007

Server Up Again

And after one long weekend, the OEDILF server is up again. It was very sweet of Australia to arrange to have the Labour Day long weekend just when I needed the time.

Things I have learned:

  • Just because a backup procedure works when you first test it, doesn't mean that it will keep working a year later as your database grows.
  • Some programmers think that the end of an incomplete export file is the only place to publish the fact that the export terminated early.
  • An untested backup is not a reliable backup.
  • Linux is like religion. They all look alike on the surface, but each schism has its own variation of the canon.
  • It's a bad idea to let a shell get between your password and the application that needs it -- when your password contains non-alphnumeric characters.
  • Simple installations with simple reconfigurations take vastly more time than you ever thought they could.
  • Programs that provide an automatic version upgrade don't always upgrade all the necessary parts of their schemata.

I'd say that life was slowing down again, but having just had an 8am to 9:30pm day at work, I think I'll reserve my judgment.

OEDILF server down for a while

The OEDILF server is going to be having diagnostic tests run on it for the next few hours. Sorry for the interruption.

Update: Hard disk replaced. Reinstallation progressing. Discussion and limericks.

Update: The OEDILF forum is back running again.