Can a Machine Know? Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 20 April 2017

Can a Machine Know?

“Computers rule the world”, that’s what they always say. It’s the computer age and everything is run by computers. In the telecommunications industry, operators in the traffic section were laid off only to be replaced by machines. A lot of companies prefer to invest in computerized equipments than hiring people to do the job. No salary increases, no hospital benefits, no sick leaves etc. Computers run businesses around the globe. Maybe it’s true that computers indeed rule the world. But can these machines know? Can they think like regular people?

Certainly when one rules, it should be that that person or that “thing” is capable of knowing, of thinking. In this paper, try to assess if indeed, a machine has the capacity to know just like ordinary people. What is Knowledge? Knowledge is indispensable. No person can function nor survive without it. From the moment a person is born, he gets to learn things for him to survive. Knowledge is a tool used by man to be able to stay alive. Knowledge involves the use of all senses to be able to fully grasp what is there to learn. You see it, you hear it, and you touch and even feel it.

Learning is more meaningful when you get to use all of your five senses. So, can a machine do this? However, a lot of people believed that a machine, the computer more particularly, has the capacity to know. A machine is a mechanical device used by man to help him perform a particular task more specifically, a task that requires the use of hand. A computer is a machine which is capable of accepting, processing, and storing data at high speeds and performs a particular task as instructed by the user or programmer. Computers are made up of big and small wires, metals etc.

and are run by electricity. It is a lifeless and emotionless object created by man. So how in the world can it be that a machine is capable of knowing? Ways ok Knowing There are four basic ways of knowing as stated in the Theory of Knowledge (ToK): through perception, emotion, reason and language. Perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting and organizing information. It is how we see and evaluate things. Man is capable of perceiving. He assesses and evaluates his self through his experiences, through his learning. But can a machine perceive too?

Victor Zue , an expert in speech recognition born in Sichuan, China was interested in the idea of human machine interaction and in building systems that can understand and talk with people. At MIT, he formed the Spoken Language Systems Group is now teaching the computer to talk and listen so that one day we will no longer use the keyboard to type a command for the computer to perform, we can just say the word and voila! , the computer will readily provide us the answer to our questions. Victor Zue also built a system that can tell telephone callers the weather in 500 cities around the world.

The system works in Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and English. If this system is successful, things will be easier for people especially those who don’t have companions at home. The machine will remind you to take your medicine when its time to drink or remind you where to put your things or call your doctor whenever you fall. If these projects of Victor Zue will materialize, certainly perceiving of computers is not far too impossible to happen. But right now, it still can’t. Although it can help us in the financial, geographical and logistics factors, computers still can’t surpass man’s ability to perceive.

Certainly computers do not have emotions. As they are lifeless creation of man, it does not have the capacity to feel, to empathize or sympathize. How about reason? Can computers rationalize? Reason according to Ayn Rand : …is the faculty which… identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach.

The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. —Ayn Rand “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” in Philosophy, Who Needs It? p. 62. Similarly, Aristotle called man “the rational animal” because it is the faculty of reason that most distinguishes humans from other creatures and to that of the computer. As humans, we have wisdom and free will and we commit mistakes. We have logic that helps us judge about certain arguments and we based our decisions on how we see things as right for us.

And as we grow on and develop, we learn more how to rationalize things and we become more knowledgeable. The last and final component of knowing is Language. Language as defined to in dictionaries is a system that is used for communication purposes. It’s a set of symbols and rules by which the manipulation of these symbols is governed. Man uses language to understand each other. Computers have their own sets of languages too. In fact, humans and computer programs have constructed languages, including constructed languages such as Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua, Klingon, programming languages, and various mathematical formalisms.

Also, BASIC (standing for Beginner’s All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was written (invented) in 1963, at Dartmouth College, by mathematicians John George Kemeny and Tom Kurtzas as a teaching tool for undergraduates. BASIC has been one of the most commonly used computer programming languages, a simple computer language considered an easy step for students to learn before more powerful languages such as FORTRAN. We can communicate with computers. Therefore computers can communicate and is capable of communication but, in a limited way.

Computers cannot answer personal questions such as why some people hate each other. One needs to see and witness first before one can answer the reasons why and computers cannot do that. Areas of Knowledge But certainly computers help us a lot. Computers can compute mathematical equations faster than the average man. Computers can calculate equations in a matter of seconds and then display the result almost instantly. In 1965, Daniel Bobrow wrote one of the first Rule-Based Expert Systems. It was called “STUDENT” and it was able to solve a variety of high-school algebra “word problems”.

Since 1989, in Indonesia for example, the Department of Physics, Institut Teknologi Bandung uses computers to help teachers of the natural sciences in secondary schools as a teaching aid in their subject area. In the US alone, students use the internet as part of their social studies instruction. Students access information through the internet (NAEP, 1998). Similarly, the use of computers in historical research has followed divergent paths in the UK and US. Multimedia materials are used for undergraduate history teaching in the UK by the History Courseware Consortium at the University of Glasgow.

In the fields of Arts, softwares are created to help artist in designing and creating animations, visual figures etc. Technology therefore help subjects and other fields of studies more interesting and appealing to students and readers. Conclusion Computers definitely help man in various ways. By means of the Internet, we can use computer technology to find and gather all types of information. Computer technology helps us process and organize all kinds of information and then use that information to solve particular problems. Computer technology also helps us to communicate and exchange information through writing, publishing, presenting etc.

To top it all, computers make a man’s job a lot easier and more efficient. But it certainly cannot surpass man’s intelligence. And it definitely cannot know. The fact that these machines are created by man, it certainly cannot exceed man’s capacity to know and think.


Daniel Greenstein, ‘Bringing Bacon Home: The Divergent Progress of Computer-Aided Historical Research in Europe and the United States’, Computers and the Humanities, Vol. 30 No. 5 1996/1997, pp 351-364. National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998 Civics Assessment.

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