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maybe you need to define "semantics" | 756 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
maybe you need to define "semantics"
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 19 2012 @ 05:07 PM EDT
>A wisely chosen algorithm will manipulate syntax in a way
that is consistent with semantics.

>But the computer doesn't actually process the semantics.

What's the difference?

> If we look at the internals of the program we can only
find some pushing around of the raw uninterpreted bits. It
can't be otherwise.

I guess that depends what you mean by "internals of the
program". Somewhere behind the scenes the compiler is
dealing with semantically neutral bits, but most of the
programming that most programmers do is all about

But my main point was different. If you only look at the
hardware level, then semantics as such does not exist. It's
*always* an illusion. The human brain deals with voltages
and chemicals, so where's semantics? If humans can do
semantics, so can computers. If computers can't, neither
can humans. Pick one.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

re pt 1
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 19 2012 @ 10:39 PM EDT
You're quite right; all the paths were physically etched by
the hardware designer. "Anticipated" was an inadequate

That still leaves open the possible interpretation that
closing a switch (nobody has rebutted my assertion that
transistors can be, and frequently are, used precisely as
switches) somehow makes a "new electrical path". I doubt
that the court that made that assertion imagined that
writing a program caused new circuitry to be etched, but
they must have imagined that closing a few switches caused
*something* new to exist.

The simplest scenario is that you've got a "new circuit"
every time power flows through. That's even correct, in a
sense. It's just not "new" in the sense of innovative: it's
exactly the same circuit as the last time that power flowed
through that path. And not only are all the paths etched in
advance, and all the possible combinations of switches
anticipated, but (extremely likely) all the possible
combinations of switches - all the possible permutations of
current flow - all the available paths - were previously
tested at the factory. (Well, maybe not *all* the
permutations - I don't know if every instruction that
accesses memory is tested with every single possible
address. But all the permutations that matter.) There's
just no avoiding the conclusion that to the extent software
creates circuits, the circuits aren't new.

What's possibly new in software is the *sequencing* of
instructions: do this *then* this (if that). This is much
more analogous to the cards of a player piano than to a
circuit design. What's new isn't the machine playing the
notes, and it certainly isn't the notes themselves or the
strings that play the notes (I think the "new circuit"
theory would be analogous to a "new string" theory), what's
(potentially) new is the sequence of notes: the musical
work. (Luckily, music isn't patentable subject matter,
though I don't know what the court's justification is for
that, and I wonder how long it would hold up if the patent
lawyers made a concerted effort.)

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

  • re pt 1 - Authored by: PolR on Thursday, July 19 2012 @ 11:07 PM EDT
two nitpicks
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 20 2012 @ 09:01 AM EDT
"Humans mastering semantics is an illusion in the eyes of the observer. If
you read the chemical manual of a brain you will find an exhaustive list of all
the chemical reactions which could ever be used in a lesson for this brain. None
of them allow the human to process the meaning of the atoms.
Recognizing a symbol such as the letter F is not recognizing its semantics. It
is a syntactical operation. Humans(more specifically Lawers) are good at
manipulating syntax.

Humans can only execute chemical reactions in the sense of chemistry. This is
because executing chemical reactions is the only thing a human can do. A
education, even an advanced education (University), is input given to the brain.
And chemical reactions are by definition reactions which do not process the
semantics of symbols. They only act on the substances in the brain. This is part
of the chemical structure which makes the learning brain possible. You are
disputing a fundamental limitation of the chemical science which is applicable
to all.

Education will teach to manipulate syntax in a way that is consistent with
semantics. Part of the art of the teacher is to find such lessons. Artificial
intelligence is no exception. When such a human acts the observer will have the
impression that the human understands semantics because it produces outputs
which are consistent with a proper understanding of semantics (note: this is
often seen with politicians, later you find out they had nu clue what the heck
they were talking about). But the human doesn't actually anderstand the
semantics. If we look at the internals of the human we can only find some
pushing around of the raw uninterpreted atoms. It can't be otherwise.
Understanding of the semantics is not part of the chemical reaction set and it
is not part of the chemistry theory which underlies the biological

there are now cars that stop when they see a stop sign.
there are humans-drivers that stop when the see a stop sign.
just because we can understand the whole proces in computers and in humans we do
not (down to the checmical reactions) I think you can not uphold that computers
do not understand semantics and people do when they both exhibit the correct
behavour to syntax.

Regards, Martin

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

two nitpicks
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 22 2012 @ 08:51 AM EDT
> Computers mastering semantics is an illusion in the
> eyes of the observer.


[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

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