The two linguists on the panel, Noam Chomsky and Barbara Partee, both made seminal contributions to our understanding of language by considering it as a computational, rather than purely cultural, phenomenon. Both also felt that understanding human language was the key to creating genuinely thinking machines. "Really knowing semantics is a prerequisite for anything to be called intelligence," said Partee.
Chomsky derided researchers in machine learning who use purely statistical methods to produce behavior that mimics something in the world, but who don't try to understand the meaning of that behavior. Chomsky compared such researchers to scientists who might study the dance made by a bee returning to the hive, and who could produce a statistically based simulation of such a dance without attempting to understand why the bee behaved that way. "That's a notion of [scientific] success that's very novel. I don't know of anything like it in the history of science," said Chomsky.
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