Do cranes try to lift things?

A long, long time ago, I ran into my friend Salis while I was prying a rock from the ground.

"Boy, that lever sure is making an effort to get that rock out of the ground!" Salis remarked.

"No, I don't think so... I think it's just a tool. I'm the one making the effort," I replied.

A few centuries later, he came across me using a polyspastos to place large stones high atop a building.

"Whoa, now there's no way you can deny that thing is making an effort to lift those stones!" he commented.

"Well, certainly is is a better lifting machine, but why does that make any difference as to whether or not it is 'making an effort'?"

"Ha, back in the day, you never thought machines could lift this much. And you know they'll be even better tomorrow."

"Yes, but how is that..."

"People like you are stuck in the past!"

Finally, several centuries later, he came across me using a TAISUN and lifting 20,000 tons.

"Well, Gene, I guess you'll have to admit now that these machines really do try to lift things! Boy, look at all it is lifting!"

Of course, the technical capabilities of the machine have no bearing at all on whether it is "trying" or not. There is no more or less reason to believe that a simple lever tries to lift things than there is that the most sophisticated crane does.

Does Watson think about chess strategy? I don't think so, but if it does, then there is no reason to deny that the most primitive computer in 1950 was thinking about adding numbers, or, indeed, that a thermometer thinks about the temperature of "its" house.


  1. I can imagine a robotic crane that is deployed in remote rock-fall areas to remove rocks from the road.

    Most people in describing what this robot did would say something like "it senses when a rock has fallen onto the road, it tries to lift the rock off the road, and if it fails it calls for additional robotic cranes to assist'.

    Of course, the fact that people would feel comfortable saying that a crane "tries to lift.." etc when there is a robot involved no more proves that the robot is thinking or conscious than coming up with examples where saying a crane "tries to lift.." would seem inappropriate proves that a crane doesn't think. But it does show that in everyday language people do associate things like "trying " and "thinking" with more complex algorithmic processes such as those operating in robotic cranes and chess computers and would not (normally) apply them to simpler things like standard cranes or thermostats.

    1. Motion detector lights "sense" when we are in the yard. The thermostat "knows" the house has gotten to cold. The trap "felt" the presence of the rabbit and sprung. The refrigerator light "knows" when the door is closed. It was too great "an effort" for the crane to lift the load. The truck was "straining" to make it up the hill.

      People quite normally say tons of things like this!


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