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And what about computers? Suppose computers are developed to the point where they can be used to control robots that look on the outside like dogs, respond in complicated ways to the environment, and behave in many ways just like dogs, though they are just a mass of circuitry and silicon chips on the inside? Would we have any way of knowing whether such machines were conscious?

[What does it all mean? Thomas Nagel]

What does the word "they" refer in the context? computers or robots

Thanks

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It refers to robots; it is part of the noun phrase that is the object of control:

robots that look on the outside like dogs, respond in complicated ways to the environment, and behave in many ways just like dogs, though they are just a mass of circuitry and silicon chips on the inside

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Neither/Both/machines.

"They" refers to the resulting advanced computer-controlled robot. So neither.

"They" refers to the developed computers, which control robots. And "they" also refers to robots, which are controlled by the computers. So both.

In the next sentence these computer-controlled robots are referred to as machines, so the "they" applies to them (the machines) too. So the machines.

The real answer is that the concept of an advanced computer-controlled robot is brought to mind by the supposition. So the "they" refers to an implied thought and not a grammatical element.

Consider a simpler example.

Suppose you cross a sheep with a goat. What would you call it?

"It" refers to neither a sheep nor a goat, but the result of the cross. "It" therefore refers something brought to mind, a concept, which is grammatically not present.

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