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Can we build a computer with free will?

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While some dispute the very existence of free will, others claim to know how to build a computer with free will (so, presumably they think free will, or something like it, exists). From physicist Mark Hadley at The Conversation:

Strangely, the philosophical literature does not seem to consider tests for free will. But as a scientist, it was essential to have a test for my model. So here is my answer: if you are right handed, you will write your name holding a pen in your right hand. You will do so predictably almost 100% of the time. But you have free will, you could do otherwise. You can prove it by responding to a challenge or even challenging yourself. Given a challenge you may well write with your left hand. That is a highly discerning test of free will. And you can probably think of others, not just finely balanced 50:50 choices, but really rare events that show your independence and distinguish you from an automaton.

For free will, we add one more goal: to assert independence. The computer program is then designed to satisfy this goal or desire by responding to challenges to do otherwise. It’s as simple as that. Test it out yourself, the challenges can be external or you can generate your own. After all, isn’t that how you conclude that you have free will?

In principle the program can be implemented in today’s computers. It would have to be sophisticated enough to recognise a challenge and even more so to generate its own challenges. But this is well within reach of current technology. That said, I’m not sure that I want my own personal computer exercising free will though … More.

His argument sounds somewhat confusing. First, right-handed human beings can easily learn to use their left hands. Otherwise, how do right-handed women learn to polish all of their nails deftly without assistance?

In general, we do not bother to train both hands for a task unless both are required (in which case the training is usually developed as a relay). For most of us, the right hand is dominant. But it’s not clear how the question involves free will as such. That is, of course, a right-handed person might be “free” to be left-handed but it just isn’t convenient. For one thing, most societies assume right-handedness as the norm so an incentive to change late in life exists only for people who actually cannot use their right hand.

Dr. Hadley does not explain exactly how the computer program could have free will. Wouldn’t it need to have a self and desires first? If we are exploring these regions, it would make more sense to ask whether a cat has free will than whether a computer does.

See also: Researchers: Neuroscience has not “disproved” free will: “To be clear, we’re not taking a position on free will,” Dubljevic says. “We’re just saying neuroscience hasn’t definitively proven anything one way or the other.”

Do cats have free will? Do they need it?

8 Replies to “Can we build a computer with free will?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    It is easy for Mark Hadley to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he has built a computer with free will. All he has to do is “build an artificial intelligence system that imitates genuine mathematical insight.”

    The mathematical world – James Franklin – 7 April 2014
    Excerpt: the intellect (is) immaterial and immortal. If today’s naturalists do not wish to agree with that, there is a challenge for them. ‘Don’t tell me, show me’: build an artificial intelligence system that imitates genuine mathematical insight. There seem to be no promising plans on the drawing board.,,,
    – James Franklin is professor of mathematics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
    http://aeon.co/magazine/world-.....-be-about/

    The danger of artificial stupidity – Saturday, 28 February 2015
    “Computers lack mathematical insight: in his book The Emperor’s New Mind, the Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose deployed Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem to argue that, in general, the way mathematicians provide their “unassailable demonstrations” of the truth of certain mathematical assertions is fundamentally non-algorithmic and non-computational”
    http://machineslikeus.com/news.....-stupidity

    Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will and the Turing Test – Douglas S. Robertson
    Excerpt: Chaitin’s Algorithmic Information Theory shows that information is conserved under formal mathematical operations and, equivalently, under computer operations. This conservation law puts a new perspective on many familiar problems related to artificial intelligence. For example, the famous “Turing test” for artificial intelligence could be defeated by simply asking for a new axiom in mathematics. Human mathematicians are able to create axioms, but a computer program cannot do this without violating information conservation. Creating new axioms and free will are shown to be different aspects of the same phenomena: the creation of new information.
    http://cires.colorado.edu/~dou...../info8.pdf

    i.e. No Mind with free will, i.e. no purposeful intent, then no creation of new information.

    The preceding is a falsifiable statement.

    The Law of Physicodynamic Incompleteness – David L. Abel
    Excerpt: “If decision-node programming selections are made randomly or by law rather than with purposeful intent, no non-trivial (sophisticated) function will spontaneously arise.”
    If only one exception to this null hypothesis were published, the hypothesis would be falsified. Falsification would require an experiment devoid of behind-the-scenes steering. Any artificial selection hidden in the experimental design would disqualify the experimental falsification. After ten years of continual republication of the null hypothesis with appeals for falsification, no falsification has been provided.
    The time has come to extend this null hypothesis into a formal scientific prediction:
    “No non trivial algorithmic/computational utility will ever arise from chance and/or necessity alone.”
    https://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/The_Law_of_Physicodynamic_Incompleteness

    “In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”
    Karl Popper – The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge (2014 edition), Routledge

    Despite the sensationalism in the mainstream media, Artificial Intelligence and Evolutionary Algorithms have both failed to generate non-trivial information that was not previously programmed into, or accessible to, a computer. All information traces its original source back to a Mind

    Top Ten Questions and Objections to ‘Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics’ – Robert J. Marks II – June 12, 2017
    Excerpt: “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. Hard sciences are built on foundations of mathematics or definitive simulations. Examples include electromagnetics, Newtonian mechanics, geophysics, relativity, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, optics, and many areas in biology. Those hoping to establish Darwinian evolution as a hard science with a model have either failed or inadvertently cheated. These models contain guidance mechanisms to land the airplane squarely on the target runway despite stochastic wind gusts. Not only can the guiding assistance be specifically identified in each proposed evolution model, its contribution to the success can be measured, in bits, as active information.,,,”,,, “there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. According to our current understanding, there never will be.,,,”
    https://evolutionnews.org/2017/06/top-ten-questions-and-objections-to-introduction-to-evolutionary-informatics/

    podcast – Don’t Raise the White Flag to Our AI Overlords Just Yet – January 22, 2018
    https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/intelligentdesign/episodes/2018-01-22T08_58_45-08_00
    On this episode of ID The Future, computer engineer Robert Marks,,, Yes, computing power doubles every couple of years or so, but Dr. Marks insists that a qualitative gulf separates humans from computers, a difference that no amount of computing power can ever overcome.

    Robert Marks on the Lovelace Test – January 23, 2018,
    Marks explains the Lovelace test which, unlike the better-known Turing test, focuses precisely on this hard limit to what computer algorithms can do. AI cannot, in this sense, truly create.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2018/01/robert-marks-on-the-lovelace-test/

    Robert Marks: Some Things Computers Will Never Do: Nonalgorithmic Creativity and Unknowability – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm0s7ag3SEc

    Might I also suggest that Mark Hadley’s attempt to build a computer with free will is akin to someone believing they can create a computer with a soul?

    Can a Computer Think? – Michael Egnor – March 31, 2011
    Excerpt: The Turing test isn’t a test of a computer. Computers can’t take tests, because computers can’t think. The Turing test is a test of us. If a computer “passes” it, we fail it. We fail because of our hubris, a delusion that seems to be something original in us. The Turing test is a test of whether human beings have succumbed to the astonishingly naive hubris that we can create souls.,,, It’s such irony that the first personal computer was an Apple.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....45141.html

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    Can we build a computer with free will?

    How else would we build one?

  3. 3
    Origenes says:

    Can we build a computer without free will? Or put more clearly: do we need free will to build a computer?

    Without having free will, living in a deterministic world, we do not build computers at all. That is, we build them alright, but only as a consequence of events and laws of nature in the remote past before we were born.

    In fact, all our actions and thoughts would be consequences of events and laws of nature in the remote past before we were born. And, surely, we do not have control over circumstances that existed in the remote past before we were born, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.

    If, long before we were born, it was decided that we build computers and how, exactly in all its details, we must ask ourselves: what kind of entity is capable of setting that up?

  4. 4
    EricMH says:

    @Origenes, hah! Either free will doesn’t exist and the level of fine tuning is unimaginable, or free will exists and thus materialism cannot be true. Nice one!

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    EricMH @4

    Exactly. Well put.
    Any deterministic world is, on its own, bereft of intelligent acts. A moronic world, so to speak. Observing a deterministic world is watching the unfolding of a sequence of events determined at the start. Therefor all information in the world (e.g. computers, spaceships, jet airplanes, nuclear power plants, libraries full of science texts and novels, and every thought anyone has ever had) is inputted by the ‘Initial State.’ FRONT-LOADED by it. “Unimaginable” indeed.

    All we witness in a deterministic world is the execution/actualization of what has been inputted at the start.

    Determinism clearly leads to theism and nowhere else.

    But, you are quite correct, surely free will cannot save materialism, since it cannot accommodate free will. Materialism is false no matter what.

  6. 6
    mahuna says:

    I’m gonna go with “building pseudo free will.”

    I play wargames, which is part of the broader field of Conflict Simulation. In some Simulations, a unit can randomly “go berserk”. Typically, this means that the owning Player can’t control what the unit does. For example, the unit might attack the nearest enemy unit regardless of the odds. Or the Berserkers might move relentlessly toward the edge of the board. Or refuse to move at all. In most Simulations, the owning player may attempt to “rally” the Berserkers and bring them back under control.

    In real life group activities, such as a Stock Market, free willed people choose to do what they normally do (take the train downtown, sit a desk, eat lunch, come home). And so their actions are highly predictable because they choose to go with the flow.

    But every once in a while, someone notices that the Market has been going up for a period longer than the last 3 cycles. And so now, regardless of other facts, more and more people CLOSELY watch prices in expectation of a Sell signal. And then they start selling. And they keep selling until some other datum convinces some other market watcher that we’ve hit bottom and prices will now go up again.

    So there is free will involved in real world Conflict Resolution, but quite often the choice of the vast majority is dictated to them by a small group whose fact selection and reasoning does not follow the selection and reasoning of normal people.

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    If we could replicate the rest of creation from nothing, including life, I expect we could.

  8. 8
    jaseinspace says:

    I’ve written an implementation of Mark’s “Second Biscuit” simulator using Python and pygame. Send me a message if you would like a copy.

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