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April 22, 1974

The Cartesian Computer

Author Affiliations

Washington, DC

JAMA. 1974;228(4):463. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230290019016

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To the Editor.—  The editorial on the difference between computers and men (227:194, 1974) presents a remarkably clear and distinct summary of Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum."This cogito cannot have much to do with computer consciousness, however. Descartes' "I" was introspective, completely detached from any physical associations, requiring God to ensure that its sensations and thoughts were not just dreams. It was probably not what we mean by thinking or by consciousness today, and it is not liable to be applied to machines. In fact, it is not even strictly applicable to another human being. It is entirely introspective, arrived at by looking into myself. I therefore have no real way of knowing that you have any thoughts or consciousness at all.Spontaneity of thought may more plausibly distinguish us from machines than the mere presence of thought. There is a double problem here. Whether human thought is truly spontaneous