Lately, the conversation (or better to say questions) about the existence of Free Will seems to appear very often in the media. Most of it does recall a kind of exercise in The art of Rhetoric 1.1 more than real debates and while some are readily and enthusiastically reasoning with the God Almighty argument, others, are trying to have empirical evidence-based statistics of lab testing accompanied by neuro-scientific colorful graphs.
Of course, debates and the (philosophical) questioning about the existence of Free Will is nothing new (from political, theological, economics, social and every existing perspective), but it is to argue that we are beginning to see a new and exciting component: technology.
First, let me just say that if you are a deterministic, this article will not be for your liking (but if you do want to comment, please read it first). Now, we should begin with a little thought exercise in the style of what Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and author, uses in his talks. I will present three different incidents and all you have to do is to ponder what will be your choice in each matter.
1 – Choose a book or a film (any book or any film, the first one that comes to your mind).
2 – Finding a little sac with money / hair in your soup you just ordered, what will you do with it?
3 – Do you know what will be your next thought?
And here’s one for the road: can you think of a word you don´t know?
We’ll get back to that later.
Recently, it seems the race for the better android, humanoid or simply an autonomous robot had reached a new level. From Watson, that is now officially the smartest creature on earth, to “Geminoid-F” (L), the Osaka’s Geminoid Summit android that can smile and talk (not about Aristotelian concept of Free Will just yet), and other gimmicks as, naming one example, what will soon to be the car of the future, the Google autonomous vehicle. This is an exciting time (as any time) that offers us a vision about ourselves as never before.
Free Will is considered by the many religious of many religions to be god given. This, of course, evokes a fallacy that is mentioned by non-religious thinkers that doubt and question how it can be Free Will if it is given to you (and with a set of strict rules to accompany it). However, without deviating to a religious debate, it can be interesting to look into it with the examples of technology. The main claim of the ones that deny the existence of Free Will is that we are a product of our past experiences, either by nature or nurture (the level of importance of each vary depending to the perspective of the debater). Meaning, the next phrase you will read will not be because I chose freely to write but because it is the consequence of all my accumulated experiences in a mixture with the character I was born with put together in the context I was trying so hopelessly construct with a kind of logic dictated to me by the English grammar. How, then, technology supports that kind of claim? Firstly, the fact that 40 years from now, people will look back and giggle on the humanoid we have today is evident (similar to how we giggle thinking about floppy disks). Hence, let us try to image the android of the future (which in many ways already exists) with the smile of the Japanese model smiley face and the capacity to communicate that is closer to Watson. Can we say that it will have Free Will? I think no rational mind (aside of her creator) will venture to claim that. Yet it will be able to talk, walk, perform tasks and solve dilemmas. Or perhaps we should ask it differently: can we say that we gave it Free Will?
Now, there are two issues here that I will try to avoid not to get to a circle of arguments and those are: the supposed analogy to man as a combination of circuits, blood vessels and neurons, and the notion of an intelligent design by an omnipotent creator.
It will be much more interesting to continue reflecting of the power of technology and how it sheds new light on Free Will. Such as the question how did Google kill Free Will?
There is a fact that is difficult to digest sometimes and that is that Google has become the Empire it is by simply getting to know what we want before we do. Meaning, from a simple search engine to locate what you search on the web, Google realized that it had struck a gold mine of information and if they will use it wisely, it will magically transformed to… what else, money and supremacy. So, from registering our keywords and preferences of search, they now gain a revenue of 1.2-1.4 billion dollars a year with as magnanimous projects as the Internet for all hot-air balloons and autonomous cars. How come?
This success (and I´m not implying that it was a Pinky and the Brain world domination conspiracy) is by far a significant blow for the Free Will supporters. One reason is that it demonstrates that with right algorithm (hard wire) our Free Will can actually be predicted. The fact that indeed, any decision we make can actually and factually be preconceived solely by calculating all of our prior cybernetic actions is mind blowing. They managed to do that only with our Internet life, not even while reading our minds or physically following us all day (though, in some ways, depending of the level of connectivity we live, they are).
In the end, there seem to be a dichotomy with two possible reasons: the first, if we take the android/maker option, one can argue for a higher being that programmed our minds to a limited cognitive and emotive causality and its interpretations; second, is the Google predictability consciousness which refer to the fact that there is no higher being that supervise our being and we are the product of countless and measureless incidents that got us to where we are today and we are simply acting by inductive and deductive reasoning.
Little girls and boys like to personify their toys (dolls, figurine, etc.), they create meaning in imaginary conversation and gives them a sense of purpose, of Will. Some things, I guess, are just innate (and necessary to try and keep having the will of life).
So what do we do now? Well, whether you feel the inception handiwork of an omnipresent and atemporal being or a box of coagulated past construction circuits, remember that whatever you do and however you think today will be the bases of your future actions. So let’s educate ourselves for good now to live a better tomorrow.
Do something that even Google wouldn´t know you wanted to do, surprise yourself, be more alive the a Japanese robot or a cluster of ninety IBM Power 750 servers know-it-all. More than thinking you have Free Will, be courageous and earn the Will to be Free.