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I find this an unfortunate choice by Searle in the present era, and argue

  • The Grecian Room is more suitable

My feeling is that Chinese Room creates a negative perception of Asian people and Asian Americans as "other". When Searle used it, this notion of otherness was surely an influence. At the time, it wouldn't have been seen as a problematic choice, but it bothers me every time I have to reference it.

  • I don't think the thought experiment is so important that we have to use that name.

This would be one argument:

Phillip K. Dick, here understood as a narrative philosopher, wrote about the difference between xenoglossia and glossolalia, which comment on Searle, in regard to Ancient Greek specifically. [See VALIS trilogy.] Dick is a major narrative philosopher along with Asimov, Lem, and recently, Rajaniemi. Dick and Asimov have probably had more influence that Searle in the public understanding of AI. They use mythology of AI to explore social concepts in the manner of Plato.

This is sort of a Washington Redskins type of deal here—and that's my home team.

Searle is important, but I don't think he's foundational in the same way as Von Neumann, Turing, Shannon, Godel, Hilbert, etc.

I don't think Searle's intentions were bad, but I don't like this label in 2021.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you clarify why you think it (the name of the argument or the argument itself, I've not understood which one) "creates a bad perception of Asian people"? I am not Asian, so maybe I don't fully understand this. However, as I write in the comments below, I don't really see the connection between calling the argument "Chinese-Room argument" (and the argument itself, where the Chinese characters are used) and the creation of a "bad perception of Asian people". Why "bad"? It's not really saying anything "bad" about Chinese people. It's about the language and the understanding of it. $\endgroup$
    – nbro Mod
    Oct 2 at 21:05
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Of course it is also unfair on a large number of Chinese-speaking AI reseachers that the metaphor in Searle's argument makes less sense to them (imagine the "English Room"). I would support re-naming it for clarity in this case, separately to any concerns of causing offense.

However, I don't think AI Stack Exchange or its meta site is the forum for renaming things, beyond noting the issue for reference (as the question does). AI Stack Exhange is not a leading/influencing site for AI researchers and writers.

Our task is to be a repository of questions and answers. If someone asks "What is the Chinese Room argument in AI?" they would reasonably expect to find an answer here. No-one is going to ask "What is the Graecian Room argument?" or see any other name for the analogy that is associated with Searle.

The best you can do here - and I note you have - is to make your alternative suggestion when answering a question on the topic. Until any influence on the subject spreads out to other sites and media such that a new name takes hold, then AI Stack Exchange should continue to refer to the name that Searle gave the problem, with maybe an aside or footnote with other suggestions, or maybe linking this meta question.

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Whether or not people like this name, this is how it has been known in the AI community for many years, so I don't think we should relabel it. It's called the Chinese-Room argument because it questions/involves the "understanding" of the Chinese language, which many people think to be very difficult, more difficult than, for example, German or Russian. (Of course, for Chinese people, it might be easier than other languages, but maybe not necessarily). So, in a sense, this is a good name for the philosophical argument because it is suggestive/descriptive.

I don't think it creates a negative perception of Asian people. I've never thought of that. Searle had to pick something that people would think that you really need "understanding" to deal with and you can't just manipulate symbols. The Chinese language was chosen probably because it may be difficult for many people.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it is the difficulty of the language that Searle was invoking, but complete lack of familiarity with the glyphs and grammar of the written form, for many readers. Hence all the conversation tasks are opaque to the operator in the room, and there seems to be no route to the machine "understanding" what it is doing - e.g. stats on the symbols or phrases cannot capture meaning in isolation. $\endgroup$ Oct 2 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @NeilSlater Ok, but the idea is that you don't or might not understand the language or something in general by just having the rules to manipulate it. Searle could have used any other language that is not English and that he doesn't know, but he had to pick something. I just don't understand why you think it's unfair for Chinese-speaking AI researchers or practitioners. People need to take the context into account (Searle was an English native speaker and the Chinese language was just an example; he could have picked Japanese, Arabic, Russian, or something else). $\endgroup$
    – nbro Mod
    Oct 2 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ So, for me, it's unclear why it "creates a negative perception of Asian people". Why? If people told me that my native language is not understandable to them, that's perfectly fine. They didn't grow up listening to my native language and they didn't take the time to study it, so it's perfectly normal. I simply can't understand why the Chinese-Room argument, only because it has "Chinese" in the title/name would create a negative perception. I don't see the connection. $\endgroup$
    – nbro Mod
    Oct 2 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ It would be like suggesting that we should rename "the vanishing gradient problem" to something else because it creates a negative perception of the gradient or gradient descent. Actually, this is a bad example. I should have come up with something else. My point is that I don't see the connection between the Chinese-Room argument and the fact that this is unfair to Chinese/Asian people or creates a negative perception of them. This doesn't make sense to me. Wise people will read the argument and take context into account. $\endgroup$
    – nbro Mod
    Oct 2 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ I am neutral on the term being offensive, so cannot answer that. To me, I think it is unfair only in the mildest sense that it is slightly harder to understand as a metaphor when the language to be learned is not "other" (it involves a futher step removed in empathy with the person in the room). I am not suggesting we rename anything, but I am supportive of any suggestion that it could be renamed if there is a possibility of offense or exclusion. Any actual renaming would need to be guided and enacted by people who had reason to care about it. $\endgroup$ Oct 2 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think I am in a position to judge whether any term in AI or IT should be renamed or not. I am not the potential beneficiary. So I believe my role here is to be supportive of those that have reason to care or worry about these things. The only thing I would be concerned about is well-intentioned changes made on behalf of any group, where there is no concern or complaints from a group. I understand that can be an issue too, which is why I recuse myself from anything like this and will happily use new names if they become accepted. $\endgroup$ Oct 2 at 19:14

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