We would much rather take you back to our Christmas reading. We confirmed the fact that our electronic computer had written poetry. Obviously it had succeeded in thinking, after its fashion.
Now skeptics may object that the production of modern lyric poetry needs no brainwork. It's debatable. Nevertheless, the fact that a machine is capable of giving out comprehensible sentences is a remarkable achievement - even if the inner meaning of the sentences is sometimes obscure. But other indications of the thinking powers of the automatic calculators occur to us. What about those computers that could play "Nim?" Every classically educated 17-year-old will be prepared to testify in writing that the feat requires a certain amount of grey matter.
But how does this assertion fit in with our oft-repeated observation that computers, with all their talents, are ineducable, backward fellows?
In fact, it fits in quite well, if we do not claim that the machines can cover the whole range of human thinking powers. Fantasy, conscience, the ability to form general ideas - all these, of course, are beyond the computer's capacity. But the simplest mental process, the logical combining or association of elementary I facts, can be programmed into them with a little patience.
Such a simple chain of thought, for instance, would I be this: I know my train leaves at ten past eight. I look at the clock and see that it is already eight o'clock. I conclude that I have not enough time to catch the train. There is no difficulty at all in teaching a computer such a thinking process as this. It will compare the departure time of the train with the actual time at this moment, take account of the distance to the station and make a decision with absolute self-assurance, either that the train can be caught or that it cannot.
But naturally even the best and cleverest electronic brain will not be capable of thinking such thoughts all on its own. How can it know that there are such things as trains, clocks and the risk of arriving too late at the station? It must be instructed beforehand in all the facts of the case and about all the possible conclusions it may be possible to draw from them. Naturally it is not inconceivable that an electronic computer some day, fed with a few million facts and some thousands of possible deductions that could be made from them, may arrive all by itself at quite new logical connections, if it is given enough time to collate facts and data and to balance them against one another. It may even be considered fairly certain that, if this happens, interesting and correct relationships will be brought to light between ideas in the most recondite realms of thought. It is sometimes forgotten, when human beings and electronic computers are compared, that a human being - however gifted he may be - has to be taught and trained by many other people for decades until his intelligence has developed so far that it is worth taking seriously. Until now, no attempt has been made to get a hundred programmers to spend twenty years educating a computer in vital truths. Who knows what the results might be if this were tried out?