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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: PolR on Thursday, July 19 2012 @ 11:00 PM EDT
All I'm saying is that when you say that a computer "can't" do something, you need to be clearer that you're talking about the hardware level in a general-purpose computer,
Yes I confirm this is what is meant. I thought I was clear but it seems I was not clear enough. Thanks for pointing this out.
and it's not so much that it "can't", it's that it doesn't need to.
No the issue is deeper than this. The fact that a computer can't process the semantics at a hardware level imposes a constraint on the type of procedures which could be programmed. Anything which requires a judgment call based on meaning is out of question. Only procedures which happens to be consistent with the semantics without using the semantics in any of the steps will work. These procedures are exactly those mathematicians call algorithms. This is why symbol processing is crucial. The ability to recognize symbols is part of what computers can do at the hardware level. A computer has no trouble recognizing the series of bits representing the letters FROG. Going to the next abstraction of semantics and telling which animal these letters stand for is what is out of bounds.

When you say that the ability to be consistent with semantics is the same as the ability to understand semantics you miss this crucial point. The inability to make a judgment call based on semantics is a limitation humans don't have. Humans may apply procedures which require judgment calls. Courts do this all the time. Legal tests are not mathematical algorithms and they cannot be programmed in computers.

Actually, the confusion was within the phrase "what computers can do".
Yes, this is where the confusion lies.

If the computer processes the symbols without using their meanings, on what basis do we say the computer can process the meaning? The limitations on judgment calls is real. It affects the work of the programmer. He must abstract away meanings in order to get a program which is machine executable. How can we ignore this limitation to say the computer can recognize meanings?

The computer never uses the meanings. It is like the printing press. The press can print a novel which carry some meanings. Is this the function of the press? If not, why should meanings be the function of the computer? Both technologies work at the hardware level on symbols. None use meanings.

I will give you an example of why this matters. Suppose we have an algorithm for calculating the shape of a parabola in three dimension. An engineer may use this to compute the shape of an antenna. The semantics of the symbols is this engineering application. But there is nothing in what the computer does which depends on the symbols to mean something about an antenna. A mathematician may as well use the same calculation to compute the pure geometric shape. This is what algorithms are. Procedures which work independently from the semantics. In this example there is some degree of semantics in terms of geometry but even this is not used by the computer. It just pushes the bits around.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

maybe you need to define "semantics"
Authored by: PolR on Friday, July 20 2012 @ 09:39 AM EDT
We have posted an update to the article to to clarify that we the inability to
process semantics refers to the hardware level capabilities.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

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