Semiotic Machines

Winfried Nöth

Universität Kassel
Fachbereich 08 Anglistik/Romanistik
Georg-Forster-Straße 3
D-34109 Kassel



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 What is a semiotic machine? A robot, a computer running programs endowed with artificial intelligence, any computer, a simple calculating machine, or even an ordinary mechanical typewriter? The question will be examined in the light of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of semiosis, which requires reference to processes such as reasoning, translation, interpretation, control, self-control, autopoiesis, self-reference, creativity, as well as to the distinction between genuine semiosis and quasi-semiosis. In contrast to John Searle, who argues that computers are mindless Chinese boxes and hence necessarily nonsemiotic machines, Peirce, long before the advent of computers, showed on the one hand that machines can certainly participate in processes of quasi-semiosis, but on the other hand that human minds, to a certain degree, can also operate like mere machines. However, although genuine semiosis is not restricted to operations of the human mind since it occurs widely in other spheres of life or even prebiological evolution, it is in fact questionable whether machines produced by humans, can already be described as capable of triggering genuinely semiotic processes.

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