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January 14, 1974

Ergo Sum?

JAMA. 1974;227(2):194-195. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230150046015

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A cartoon that appeared in the New Yorker (circa 1958) depicts a man reading a computer printout to his friend. "I'll be damned: It says `Cogito, ergo sum.' " Pursuing the same theme, a cartoon in World (June 5, 1973) shows a computer triumphantly exclaiming "I think; therefore, I am." Apparently, 15 years have failed to allay the suspicion that the automated brain may someday—if it had not already done so—arrive at the cartesian formula that would put it on par with the human. True, we are told that the computer is merely an electronic automaton doing what it is programmed to do. Still, when confronted with an entity that plays chess, composes poetry, translates prose, regulates traffic, tells jokes, interprets electrocardiograms, makes diagnoses, and prescribes treatment, can we escape the uncomfortable notion that we are facing or may soon face a res cogitans and ergo a something that is a