However, the phrase that pushed my hot button was " a researcher proposes to recreate a living organism inside a computer." And while the following sentence mitigates that image somewhat, the actual article in the Economist further perpetuates the myth that it is possible to create life within the computer itself:
"David Harel of the Weizmann Institute in Israel ... proposes to recreate living organisms inside a computer."
And so it seems to me that even intellectually respectable organizations such as the Economist and Sigma Xi can fall prey to muddy thinking. A computer simulation of a process is not the process itself just as the pictures in Playboy are not really flesh and blood human beings. As John Searle has pointed out in his essay, "Is the Brain's Mind a Computer Program?" (short answer: NO!!!
I'll take the opposite position and say that the brain's mind IS a computer program. To understand what I mean, we first need to refine the difference between a simulation and an emulation. A SIMULATION is an mathematical approximation of a real physical system which receives inputs and sends outputa. The accuracy of the outputs is based upon how good a model we are using. An EMULATION is a perfect substitute for a real physical system. In computer science, an emulation might be computer software which substitutes for a proposed piece of computer hardware so that it can be tested before it's actually manufactured. An example of a simulation might be a model of Earth's energy balance which can predict global warming and cooling trends. The simulation is clearly not the planet itself any more than a FAX of a pizza is a pizza. However, an emulation of a pizza would be the same as a pizza in all important regards. Clearly, edibility is an important aspect.
Suppose I produce an imitation of a pizza which looks like a pizza, smells like a pizza and tastes like a pizza. In this application it's made out colored polystyrene and seasonings, so I can sell it as a zero calorie pizza substitute. In effect, let's say that it's an emulation that passes the Turing Test. Many would say that it's not a pizza, because in their definition, pizza is a kind of flat bread made out of flour, water, salt, tomatoes and cheese. These people can never be satisfied, because they are looking at the micro level not the macro level. Even if my emulation satisfies every MACRO property of the system, by definition it cannot satisfy the MICRO properties without becoming the system itself.
The same is true of thought experiments like The Chinese Room. Even though the room emulates a chinese speaker in every external or macro regard, there will be those who must look inside and insist that the room contain a "chinese knowing mind." Since it does not, it passes the Turing Test, but fails to contain the expected intelligence. As at least one philosopher has called this kind of reasoning "argument by misdirection." With respect -Joel