Philosopher John Searle thinks not.
And literary critic Stanley Fish, writing in the New York Times, appears to agree with Searle, offering the following as a key distinction between himself and a computer:
[I]ts procedures do not track my practice. I am not self-consciously generating a pattern of statistical frequencies. I am producing words that have been chosen because they contribute to the realization of a governing idea or a compositional plan. In fact, to say that the computer is wrong is to give it more credit than it deserves; for right and wrong are not what it does; what it does is count (faster than I or anyone else could) and match. What it doesn’t do is begin with an awareness of a situation and an overall purpose and look around for likely courses of action within that awareness. That is because, as the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus explained almost 40 years ago, a “computer is not in a situation” (“What Computers Can’t Do”); it has no holistic sense of context and no ability to survey possibilities from a contextual perspective; it doesn’t begin with what Wittgenstein terms a “form of life,” but must build up a form of life, a world, from the only thing it has and is, “bits of context-free, completely determinate data.” And since the data, no matter how large in quantity, can never add up to a context and will always remain discrete bits, the world can never be built.
What most strikes me in Fish’s observation is this: human beings are always in a situation. That’s the foundation for every gesture of storytelling, and it’s also what makes us human (and not computers).
Here’s some more from Fish:
[W]e don’t walk around putting discrete items together until they add up to a context; we walk around with a contextual sense — a sense of where we are and what’s at stake and what our resources are — already in place; we inhabit worldly spaces already organized by purposes, projects and expectations. The computer inhabits nothing and has no purposes and because it has no purposes it cannot alter its present (wholly predetermined) “behavior” when it fails to advance the purposes it doesn’t have. When as human beings we determine that “the data coming in make no sense” relative to what we want to do, we can, Dreyfus explains “try a new total hypothesis,” begin afresh. A computer, in contrast, “could at best be programmed to try out a series of hypotheses to see which best fit the fixed data.”
This is why I would say that Aristotle’s notion of telos as a reason for why things happen in the world is still a relevant concept—at least when it comes to humans. We have beliefs, make choices, and have purposes that (at least appear to) transcend the processes of determinate things like computers (and the rest of the universe at large).
Maybe we really are de trop in the sense of being something excessive—greater than the sum of the universe’s determinate parts; free souls coming from God, who is our home (to echo Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality, lines 58-71):
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
Beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy; […]
Presumably, no computer will ever consciously see or experience anything, let alone joy.
So why are we here?