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[school-discuss] Prisoner in a Chinese Room
This is going out to Slashdot.
Q: What is your own response to the Chineese
Room argument (or do you just ignore it)?
A: Before I go into Searle's Chinese Room, I want to take a moment to bring
everyone up to date with my legal case, UCB vs. Wallace.
People ask me, "Why are you obsessed with Ken Goldberg and U.C. Berkeley?"
I say, I'm not obsessed. Other people are obsessed. I'm doing 3 films and
now. Hollywood producers are offering to paymy legal bills just to see how
the story turns out.
I don't have to be obsessed. The story is writing itself.
I'm just watching from the audience as it all unfolds on the big silver
screen of life.
What does this have to do with the Chinese Room, you may ask?
I was taken to court by the Regents of the University of Calfornia,
They obtained a Temporary Restraining Order barring me from the U.C.
gave me a criminal record where I had none before, and cost me thousands in
My only "crime" was free speech.
Professor John Searle works for U.C. Berkeley. Among philosophers there is
a certain decorum,
a respect for the argument, and an unwritten rule to never make attacks ad
Philosophers do not generally conduct themselves like politicians, and I
have no desire to attack professor
Searle personally here. But my judgment of his philosophical position is
admittedly clouded by the
wealth and power of his employer, and the way they choose to express it, as
well as the economic
disparity between us. Searle lives the comfortable life of a tenured
and I live the humlble life of a disabled mental health patient on Social
On April 25, 2002 my longtime friend Ken Goldberg, a U.C. Berkeley professor
of computer science,
spoke with New York Times journalist Clive Thompson on the phone about me
and my work on ALICE.
As far as I can tell, Ken had nothing but nice things to say about us at the
He expressed no fear of violence or threats to his safety.
On April 28, in the heat of an email political dispute, I wrote to Goldberg
that I could understand how
some people are driven to political violence, when they have exhausted all
I certainly was not talking about myself and my situation, because here in
America we do have civil
courts for settling disputes. Goldberg later testified in court that, of
all the messages he received
from me, he felt most threatened by this April 28 message mentioning
Subsequently, Goldberg cut off all communication with me and gave no
He was a cornerstone of my support system for 20 years. His refusal to
my requests for an explanation led to increasing feelings of depression and
even suicidal thoughts. Later I learned that he had been advised by the U.C.
Department to stop communicating with me. I couldn't understand how the
U.C.P.D. came to give him
this advice without taking into
all the facts including my medical diagnosis. For a bipolar patient who has
issues around abandonment, cutting off communication is a recipe for
disaster, not for anyone else, only for the patient.
Lumping all mental health patients together as "potentially violent" is
discrimination. Bipolar depression patients are far more likely to commit
suicide before we would ever hurt anyone else.
The U.C.P.D. has a formal complaint procedure for filing grievances
concerning the conduct of its officers.
I have reported my complaint to Officer Guillermo Beckford, who has assured
me that the complaint procedure
will be followed and that I can expect a reply.
Sometime later, according to Goldberg's testimony and other professors in
the U.C. Computer Science department,
he was also advised by two Department Heads and the U.C. lawyers to seek a
restraining order under California's
"Workplace Violence" statute. The court granted a Temporary Restraining
Order (TRO) on June 5, banning me
from setting foot the U.C. Berkeley campus and all extensions, entering my
name into the CLETS database of
known criminals, giving me a criminal record where I had none before, as
well as prohibiting me from contacting Goldberg.
What were the events leading up to the court filing on June 5? During May,
I researched and wrote a letter to U.S.
Attorney General John Ashcroft. The letter contained a description my
disability case against my former employer NYU,
a broad description of corruption that exists in American adademia today,
and a list of names of individuals who
may provide evidence or know something about my case. This letter was a
private correspondence from myself to the
Attorney General. Prior to sending it, I shared a draft with Mr. Goldberg.
I told him it was not too late for me to
take his name off the list. I told him I would really rather have him on my
side, and not see him go along with this
corrupt criminal mafia. His reply was the Temporary Restraining Order.
It was not, as Goldberg testified in court, the April 28 letter mentioning
political violence that scared him into
seeking a restraining order. It was the June 3 draft of the letter to
Attorney General Ashcroft, asking to
investigate the possibility of applying the RICO law to my academic tenure
and disability case, that finally
prompted Mr. Goldberg to use the full resources of U.C. Berkeley to restrict
my free movement and speech.
Oddly, Goldberg and the U.C. lawyers chose to publish the draft of my letter
to Mr. Ashcroft in the public
court document. The letter, along with the list of names, became Exhibit D,
making it available to the press,
including WIRED and the New York Times. It was certainly never my intention
to make this list of names public.
Through inquiries I learned that Mr. Goldberg did not even contact the
people listed to ask their permission to
publish their names in connection with the UCB vs. Wallace case.
The courtroom drama itself was somewhere between Orwellian and Kafkaesque.
Goldberg did not get what he wanted. But I did not get them to completely
drop the restraining order either. I am not banned from Berkeley or listed
in the criminal database.
The judge told me not communicate with Goldberg directly "or through third
parties" so I may have to add a
signature like this to all my outgoing messages:
By order of the Superior Court of the State of California 6/28/02,
do not forward this email or its contents to Kenneth Y. Goldberg
They did try to pull a rabbit out of a hat. The lawyer said he had evidence
that disproved all of Wallace's witness statements that he was a lifelong
pacifist and nonviolent. He said Wallace had in fact struck someone,
assaulted him, and this person was reluctant to come forward because he was
not on Wallace's "radar sceen" and he was afraid Wallace would seek
By this time I was looking at the lawyer and very curious. The judge asked
him to come forward and show her the evidence. When she read it, she
immediately said, "This is from 17 years ago. I can't accept this," and
threw it out.
Considering that the only person I ever remember trying to hit in my entire
adult life was a fellow CMU student I caught in bed with my girlfriend
Kirsti 17 years ago, it was not hard to figure out who this person was.
The attempted blow was highly ineffective, because I do not know how to
fight. In any case this was years before I sought psychiatric medical
treatment and drug therapy. The sad thing is, I was beginning to feel
charitable toward this poor old fellow, whom I have nothing against, after
all these many years, especially since I have not seen or heard from him for
very long time.
A counselor once said to me that no one ever acts like an asshole on
purpose. They always do it because they are suffering some internal,
emotional pain. Being an asshole is just an expression of inner pain.
I wanted to order a copy of the transcript from the court, but I was
concerned it might be expensive.
I tried to write down everything I could remember about Ken's testimony. No
other witnesses were called.
Among other things he testified that:
- I quoted Ulysses S. Grant.
- I studied History.
- I am charismatic.
- We have been good friends for 20 years.
- He takes what I say seriously.
- I put a lot of thought into what I say.
- In the 16 year old picture of me submitted as Exhibit E, I may or may not
be holdin a video camera, but I am not holding a gun.
- Ten years ago he witnessed my backup personality emerge in an incident
with my girlfriend, and he did not recognize me.
- But, I do not "acknowledge" that I have two sides to my personality.
- I called him an "evil demon."
- I said he was part of a conspiracy.
- I am highly intelligent.
- I had not visited his residence or office in 2 years, nor called him, nor
stalked him, nor threatened him with violence.
- He had a telephone conversation with me after seeing the film "A Beautiful
Mind" and tried to help me.
- He helped me develop a timeline of events at NYU and afterward.
- I yelled at him.
- I was angry at him.
- We had not seen each other in over 2 years.
- I told reporters he was misappropriating funds and breaking the law.
- I threatened to put up posters.
- When his boss did not reply to my email, I threatened to take my complaint
"up the chain of command."
- I claimed he had "stolen my career."
- He did know how a rational person would interpret my use of the word "war"
in a phrase like "the war between me and NYU", or if a rational person would
think this meant I literally wanted to start a war with tanks and guns.
- The threat of violence was implied by the "pattern" and "tone" of my
- The email he felt most threatened by was the one where I said, "I can
understand how people are driven to political violence" dated April 28.
At that point the judge cut off the questioning.
The attorneys went into chambers along with the judge and a visiting court
commissioner. Goldberg was all alone in the court. Everyone had laughed
his lawyer had announced earlier that his wife Tiffany Shlain, also named in
restraining order, was too afraid for her safety, of me attacking her,
to come to court. Meanwhile, I was there with about a dozen witnesses,
friends, and supporters, who proceeded to humiliate Goldberg and his lawyer,
behind his back, within earshot, in public, and even made fun of me for
ever having been
friends with him in the first place. My wife was with me holding my hand
the whole time.
Russ said he felt sorry for Ken's lawyer because they had handed him such a
"dog" of a case.
Someone said that Goldberg's testimony amounted to nothing but "whining".
Russ soon after announced it was 4:20 and even the sheriffs chuckled.
Those sheriffs could have enforced the "no talking in court" rule during
Ken's public humiliation, but for some reason chose not to. This was not
UCB vs. Wallace.
This was Berkeley vs. Townies.
I was glad Goldberg had to sit through all the other real world cases that
Ours was so surreal in comparison to the way people really live on the
Berkeley, California. One restraining order case involved a threat roughly
"If you don't move your fucking car right now, I am going to kill you." In
the defendant said he was proud to accept the restraining order. When the
all the things he was forbidden to do under the order, he asked, "Why don't
you just add
killing to the list your honor?" The other cases involved truly dangerous,
acting out real, physical in-your-face conflicts and threats. Ken
Goldberg's whining from the
Ivory Tower about my pathetic emails was from another planet. It was clear
to everyone he was
abusing the power of U.C. Berkeley to fight his personal battle with a
helpless guy on disability.
I would like to again thank the many people who appeared in court
with me, wrote statements on behalf, sent along supportive words of
and especially those who gave their prayers. It made all the difference in
a Berkeley courthouse, with a Berkeley judge, and a Berkeley lawyer,
counseling a Berkeley professor.
Incidentally, the Judge in my case, Carol Brosnahan, is married to James
Brosnahan, the attorney for
"American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.
James Brosnahan was on TV the other morning, talking about the "American
He said, "America is a little less free now. I think that is an area of
I say, I'm a little less free now, thanks to your wife Judge Carol
Brosnahan, James! And, it certainly is an area of concern for me.
Incidentally, it was the last case heard in the Berkeley courthouse before
the building is shut down for Earthquake retrofitting, a long process that
may take a couple of years. The court is moving and who knows it may never
go back to the same building. When the judge announced this fact, nearly
everyone applauded. I'm not sure if Goldberg was applauding or not.
The Judge issued her final ruling the week after the hearing.
Ken Goldberg and his attorney were determined to force me to accept some
of restraining order.
My attorney insisted I would have to accept some order of the court, no
matter how opposed I was.
She said the time to fight it was later, in another forum. I was out of my
mind. There was no way I could
agree to it. I wanted the order to disappear. I lost the ability to make
rational decisions. I became paranoid of everyone around me. I had to give
my wife Kim power of attorney to handle the case. I had suicidal thoughts.
I scheduled an emergency therapy session. I wanted to go to the hospital
because I was having physical symptoms including vomiting and headaches. I
was terrified of going to the U.C. hospital, my usual source of primary
Would they call a doctor or a lawyer first? Would they let me in? Would
they let me out again?
Thank God I have an incredibly supportive network of friends and a great
therapist in San Francisco. They kept me out of the hospital.
I needed extra medication and I did not have enough cash to buy
at the time of the crisis. My friend Russell loaned me $50 for medication.
I thanked God for my friends and my safe environment.
I felt better the next morning. Kim handled the legal case. I don't
want to think about it. Socrates drank the hemlock. Turing ate the poison
apple. But they cannot keep a good Wallace down.
I am still effectively banned from the Berkeley campus, because the only
building I really ever need to visit there is the Computer Science
department. Almost any point in the whole department is within 100 yards
of Ken Goldberg's office. I am ordered to stay 100 yards away from Mr.
I have a friend Victoria who has a restraining order. Victoria is a very
pretty, smart, intelligent and apparently harmless young woman. She was
our club one day, minding her own business for about an hour. Then, the guy
with the order came in. He got the manager to call the police and have her
thrown out, even though she arrived first. Ken Goldberg could have me
thrown out of any cafe in San Francisco that he similarly wants to occupy.
As long as Ken Goldberg has that power over me, I will fight this
restraining order. He can harass me with the police! Remember, they
started this. UCB took me to court, not the other way around.
After the ruling, I tried to make a complaint to U.C. Berkeley about
Goldberg's ability to abuse
the resources of the university to fight his personal battles. If he wanted
the civil harassment
restraining order the judge gave him, he should have been required to hire
his own attorney just
as I had to in order to defend myself. After all, I don't have the
resources of a large legal
department and police force to call upon to fight my battles with
What I have learned is that, with the exception of the U.C.P.D., there is
procedure available for a citizen of California to file a formal complaint
misconduct of U.C. Berkeley professor or employee. There is no mechanism
for public oversight or
review of these people.
Many of the professors involved in my case hold U.S. National Security
clearances at the secret level or higher.
As tenured professors, they view themselves as above the law. They believe
their tenure protects them from
oversight, investigation, or any questioning of their professional conduct.
My own disability prevents me from obtaining a clearance, but I never
considered myself to be a threat
to national security. It always strikes me as odd that many people much
more dangerous than I,
from Timothy McVeigh to Robert Hanssen to the professors in the Berkeley
Computer Science department,
have been passed through this security net, however.
Now, finally, in conclusion, I exit Berkeley's prison and return briefly to
Searle's Chinese Room.
Searle's Chinese room provides a good metaphor for thinking about A.L.I.C.E.
Indeed the AIML
contents of the A.L.I.C.E. brain is a kind of "Chinese Room Operator's
Manual." Though A.L.I.C.E.
speaks, at present, only English, German and French, there is no reason in
principle she could not learn Chinese.
But A.L.I.C.E. implements the basic principle behind the Chinese Room,
creating believable responses without
"really understanding" the natural language.
Natural human language is like a cloud blowing in the wind. Parts dissolve
away and new pieces emerge. The shape of the cloud is constantly changing.
Defining "English" is like saying, "the set of water molecules in that
cloud" (pointing to a specific cloud). By the time you are done pointing,
the set has changed. "That cloud" is actually a huge number of possible
This brings to mind the analogy of Schrodinger's Cat. According to
Schrodinger, the cat is neither alive nor dead until the box is opened. The
scenario is not unlike the Chinese Room, with its imprisoned operator, or
the Turing Imitation Game, where the interrogator may not peek behind the
curtain. The analogy suggests that language and consciousness may have the
unobservable characteristic of subatomic physics. There is no "there"
there, so to speak.
The practical consequence of all this is that botmasters may never be
unemployed. Current events and news will always be changing, new names will
appear, public attention will shift, and language will adopt new words and
phrases while discarding old ones. Or perhaps, bots will become so
influential that everyone will "dumb down" to their level, and turn the
cloud of language into a frozen icicle once and for all?