The Chinese Keys

Tangible media design


What are the Chinese Keys?

The Chinese Keys is an electromechanical and sculptural interpretation of philosopher John Searle's s Chinese Room, a thought experiment first discussed in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980. The piece is a functioning keyboard that explores the relationship between AI and human consciousness.



John Searle's Chinese Room poses important questions surrounding the arguments against philosophical positions of functionalism and computationalism. Like the Chinese Room, the Chinese Keys question whether an appropriately programmed computer with the right inputs and outputs would have a mind in exactly the same sense human beings have minds. Users interact with the piece by bending, touching, prodding, or pushing the fingers. The keyboard prints to screen Chinese characters in response to these inputs, with different Chinese outputs corresponding to different methods of touch using capacitive touch sensors and toggles. The "human" fingers of the keyboard draw inspiration from the Chinese Room's man, whose sole purpose is to produce Chinese phrases from within the room to send out despite not knowing a word of Chinese.