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Physicist Unveils a 'Turing Test' For Free Will

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the whoa-man-that's-deep dept.

Science 401

KentuckyFC writes "The problem of free will is one of the great unsolved puzzles in science, not to mention philosophy, theology, jurisprudence and so on. The basic question is whether we are able to make decisions for ourselves or whether the outcomes are predetermined and the notion of choice is merely an illusion. Now a leading theoretical physicist has outlined a 'Turing Test' for free will and says that while simple devices such as thermostats cannot pass, more complex ones like iPhones might. The test is based on an extension of Turing's halting problem in computer science. This states that there is no general way of knowing how an algorithm will finish, other than to run it. This means that when a human has to make a decision, there is no way of knowing in advance how it will end up. In other words, the familiar feeling of not knowing the final decision until it is thought through is a necessary feature of the decision-making process and why we have the impression of free will. This leads to a simple set of questions that forms a kind of Turing test for free will. These show how simple decision-making devices such as thermostats cannot believe they have free will while humans can. A more interesting question relates to decision-makers of intermediate complexity, such as a smartphone. As the author puts it, this 'seems to possess all the criteria required for free will, and behaves as if it has it.'"

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Siri doesn't have free will (0)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#45193703)

But the people who programmed her do. She's just (well) designed to *appear* to have it.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45193723)

So... she looks like a duck?

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193985)

Does she float like a duck? No! She drops below the water and her vessel is destroyed. Thus, she is neither a witch, nor a duck.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (3, Funny)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#45194239)

But perhaps she floats like a piece of wood. In which case she may be burnt. BURN HER!!!

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194007)

But the people who programmed her do.

Prove it.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (4, Insightful)

BitterOak (537666) | about a year ago | (#45194015)

But the people who programmed her do. She's just (well) designed to *appear* to have it.

But is there really any difference between having free will and appearing to have free will? Or, put another way, is there really any difference between the illusion of free will and free will? Is "free will" even a clearly defined concept? Some philosophers think not.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (3, Interesting)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | about a year ago | (#45194141)

What if someone gave you absolutely irrefutable proof that there's no such thing as free will, but you chose not to believe it?

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (5, Funny)

OakDragon (885217) | about a year ago | (#45194425)

If it turns out we don't have free will, I plan to go nuts and just do whatever I want!

Re:appearing to have free will (1, Interesting)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about a year ago | (#45194151)

"But is there really any difference between having free will and appearing to have free will? Or, put another way, is there really any difference between the illusion of free will and free will? Is "free will" even a clearly defined concept? Some philosophers think not."

I think I am in the camp of something like "Whether anyone has free will or not for religious reasons, let's assume free will, then does an AI have free will? Yes."

In the many millions of funds I don't have, I believe that all thoughts are model-able. You might not get the original creative spark, but once the thought is known, it is model-able.

What we think of "free will" is some mix of heuristics "plus a beer". I'll repeat my private mini theory that we're racially terrified of true AI because that will forever change what we do with ourselves vs machines.

Taking a simple act that can work for both people and AI, "Do I GetData or Do I Get IntangibleHealingBenefit"? For that second one, the human goes to sleep and the AI DeFrags/Prunes/Optimizes its KnowledgeBase. Both "Feel/CanBeMadeToSimulateFeeling" the struggle between data and systems management.

Whatever the heuristics are between the "beings", the act of decision is the same. And that's why it's not a magical "human right of free will". AI Free Will is a snap. We're just desperately afraid of it. See T2, "If the wrong heuristic gets in there..." - well that's what sociopathic killers are. Humans running a badly flawed HumanOS.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about a year ago | (#45194153)

In this case I propose it is actually the user of the device that has the free will, because they are initiating the algorithm. The programmer is involved in Siri's free will in the same way that your parents are involved in yours; setting it in motion.

And we do know the expected outcome, if we have enough knowledge. So even then it fails. The observer's lack of knowledge cannot in itself tell you anything about what they are observing. So really that is just conflating the possibility of failure in a system with the system having choice, or the appearance of it.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#45194485)

yes. If free will is an illusion, I can manipulate our illusion to force you to 'make' decision I want you to. More accurately, increase the odds you make the decision I want you to.

You have very little, if any, free will.

Re:Siri doesn't have free will (1)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about a year ago | (#45194283)

The article is about whether a person or device believes it has free will. And believing free will is based on not being able to predict the outcome of a decision until the decision is complete.

The decision that flips the screen orientation alone in a smartphone is an example of that decision. It has to get the current measurements, combined with an accelerometer reading to see if it has been stopped, and at least a few previous measurements to determine if it has been moved enough to qualify for flipping. The same numbers can mean "don't flip", "flip horizontally" or "flip vertically" if they come after a different set of prior measurements.

And thus it is not deterministic based on position, and the decision cannot be known other than running the decision tree. The iPhone "seems to possess all the criteria required for free will, and behaves as if it has it" - but doesn't necessarily actually have free will.

I bet Seth Lloyd is pleased with himself, while having accomplished nothing of note on this exercise.

Presence of self-awareness (5, Interesting)

TWX (665546) | about a year ago | (#45193747)

Wouldn't the presence of self-awareness be a prerequisite, so just about every device should fail, before even getting to the actual test?

Re:Presence of self-awareness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193891)

Why? What necessitates such a prerequisite, IOW, is there some inherent connection?

Not that I don't have my reservations. This seems a rather low standard. Then again, maybe we think too highly of free will, as in, it really is a lot more low level as well as weaker, certainly a lot less absolute than we would like to think. Just look at how easily we are swayed by our hormones, our emotions, our feelings. And I don't just mean ze wimmins, either.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#45194175)

The test consists of answering questions about yourself and your thought processes, including things you "believe" and predicting future behavior. It's hard to come up with a definition of self awareness that's much better than being capable of answering those types of questions. In other words, his test assumes a device with enough self awareness to complete the test, which is where an iPhone (and every other device) fails.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#45194421)

Because how could you ever "believe that you have freewill" without knowing that "I" exists?

Of course you would not need self-awareness to have freewill, if it existed, but I think you always need self-awareness to be contemplate about yourself.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about a year ago | (#45194013)

"Wouldn't the presence of self-awareness be a prerequisite, so just about every device should fail, before even getting to the actual test?"

I'll reply to you.

I think I just decided that Siri is what a Loebner Prize contest bot would look like "if it was developed for real with some money behind it."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loebner_contest [wikipedia.org]

In that contest, they "waste time" trying to trick the bots with edge case questions. For Siri, you know it's a bot, but you ask "is this answer useful". To me that is the spirit/next-gen spirit of the Turing Test. "Is this answer as useful as a person? Better?"

Now, to Self Awareness. It's not all that hard to put in a meta module where the machine "knows" about itself. It could have its specs, but also more general statements like "I'm not so good on long sentences."

Sometimes those kinds of statements "aren't as hard as we pretend they are to feel superior". As a college kid will tell you if you give him a beer for his time, about the same 100 questions show up in intermixing sets of 12. But once you know "who you are" (and what you "don't know"), then it kinda reduces down until new experience changes some of the answers.

For this reason, I considered the old Pentium I chip an extremely important tool for "AI" that I have never seen used in a special way. Because as far as I know, it was the only chip commercially famous (not a limited edition or knockoff) that had provable logic errors.

Crunch. Logic Errors are the "unfortunate hallmark of being human". So we developed all these "social skills" to maneuver around the errors. Systems design, to just getting sleep.

So if you used a P1 chip for AI, then gave it a module to "be aware that it was flawed", when it "tried to do its duty" it could do checks and inform the user "I am sorry, but that requested process will likely trigger my logic failed circuit. Do you still want to do that or find some other solution?"

Re:Presence of self-awareness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194065)

1: Yes
2: No
3: Yes
4: Yes

The article says that answering 1,3,4 Yes is lying. The paper could have only proved that for a very strict definition of 2 Yes.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194087)

Why? A worm is certainly not self-aware, but it is free to dig in whatever direction it chooses.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#45194147)

Does a turtle have free will to walk around and eat what it wants to? Does a turtle have self awareness? I don't know, but that's my idea of something that has free will, but no self awareness.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (2)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194365)

Oh come on, this is already answered in TFP:

It is important to note that satisifying the criteria for ass igning oneself free will does not imply that one possesses consciousness. Having the capacity for self-reference is a far cry from full self-consciousness."

Source: the horse's mouth http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

Re:Presence of self-awareness (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#45194457)

How could any device fail a self-awareness test?

All devices need to be aware of themselves. Know exactly where their memory bytes are, how to use its processor, and output to the screen. Devices could not function without a highly detailed and absolute awareness of self.

Re:Presence of self-awareness (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#45194501)

why do you assume self-awareness is needed to have free will? and how to you define self awareness?

Re:Presence of self-awareness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194505)

Wouldn't the presence of self-awareness be a prerequisite, so just about every device should fail, before even getting to the actual test?

You should read the paper -- he talks about precisely the point and argues that self-awareness is not a prerequisite for free will.

Hmm (2)

stewsters (1406737) | about a year ago | (#45193771)

"such as thermostats cannot believe they have free will while humans can."
Do thermostats really believe things?

mostly global warming lies... (4, Funny)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#45193889)

oh, wow, you wouldn't BELIEVE the things some thermostats believe.
It's like giving Prak an overdose of truth serum and have him ramble on about frogs for sixty hours.

Re:Hmm (5, Funny)

xevioso (598654) | about a year ago | (#45193915)

My thermostat believes it's Napoleon, and whenever I wander by it on the way to the restroom at night, it always bugs me about how we should be invading Russia and to please make sure I never ship him off to Elba or some such nonsense.

Re:Hmm (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193963)

Do thermostats really believe things?

I'd vote yes. Mine systematically believes that the temperature I set is not the one I want.

Re:Hmm (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year ago | (#45194137)

The automated model eh? Time to get out the user's guide and "program" a new reality for it.

Re:Hmm (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | about a year ago | (#45194251)

I'd vote yes. Mine systematically believes that the temperature I set is not the one I want.

Rather like my lying bastard of a toaster [youtube.com] and his partner in crime: the shower thermostat. [youtu.be]

Re:Hmm (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about a year ago | (#45194193)

"such as thermostats cannot believe they have free will while humans can."

Do thermostats really believe things?

That depends on which model you bought from Sirius Cybernetics.

Re:Hmm (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194383)

That's what happens when the slashdot summary is based on a third-hand reporting of the original paper at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (5, Insightful)

Quantus347 (1220456) | about a year ago | (#45193775)

The fact that a smartphone (Or I assume by extension any personal computer) can qualify should be an indcator that the test itself is flawed. Just like how many early definitions of Life applied to Fire (breaths, eats, grows, responds to outside stimuli, etc) even though it is just a chemical reaction.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193847)

But technically so are you.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (3)

gameboyhippo (827141) | about a year ago | (#45194465)

Depends on who you ask. Some people would not necessarily believe that he or she is 'just a chemical reaction'. As unhip as it is, I really don't think I'm 'just a chemical reaction'. I have will. I don't know about the rest of the world, but I know I have a will. Now when you come back and start flaming me for believing what is known as a properly basic belief (that I am real), just keep in mind that you're not real and therefore your arguments to the contrary matters about as much as cleverbot's.

I think the big problem with believing that people are real is that it feels supernatural. And since arm chair scientists are allergic to the idea that there exists a nature outside of our nature (that is a super nature or supernatural - not to be confused with magic), they will go through gyrations to deny such an obvious truth as in that 'I am real'.

Now cleverbots, bring on the pitchforks. Be sure to downvote this to (Score:-1 Probably a Christian) if you have mod points.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193861)

And a human being is no more than a conglomeration of chemical reactions.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193927)

Ugh yes we get it, this isn't a new, deep revelation.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193913)

and how is life not "just a chemical reaction"

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (5, Insightful)

AvitarX (172628) | about a year ago | (#45194025)

For a definition of "life" to be meaningful, it needs to apply to bacteria, and not to fire, because the word has had meaning for a very long time, and it's meaning absolutely does not apply to fire.

I'm not trying to say that there aren't corner cases that are hard to define, but fire is not one of them, nor are bacteria.

Differentiating "just chemical reactions" from "life" is the purpose of said definition.

And yes, I am begging the question I suppose, but I will still stick by what I say.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#45194109)

Early definitions of fire may have been flawed, but our current definitions for life are pretty arbitrary. The definition of life is engineered to include the things we want to include among the living.

It is pretty easy to come up with a definition of free will that specifically includes people and excludes computers (e.g. smartphones), but what purpose would that serve?

We have a definition of life that puts bacteria and humans as equals. I'm sure some people would feel like we are more alive than bacteria are, and might be inclined to define life in a way that sets us apart from bacteria. It wouldn't be hard to do. We have more biomass. We have more DNA. We have cell differentiation and sexual reproduction.

Should we be offended at the suggestion that the "aliveness" of humans is the same "aliveness" that bacteria have?

If it turns out that human minds are just a kind of biological computer that has something we want to call free will, but other entities like turtles and iphones have a similar but less complex version of the same attribute, why wouldn't these other entities also be said to also have free will, even if it isn't as good as ours?

I think the ultimate test of a classification like this, is whether it proves to be useful. I think a classification based on whether something's behavior can be predicted is pretty useful. Should we call this classification free will vs. lack of free will? I don;t know, but I haven't heard of many better suggestions for classifications describing this concept.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (2)

spikesahead (111032) | about a year ago | (#45194123)

At what arbitrary point does a chemical reaction jump from being 'just' a chemical reaction to being a chemical reaction that qualifies as 'life'?

Note that this is fundamentally human-centric question. Life is a word that we made up, there is no intrinsic property of life. If I take a handful of carbon, water, and trace elements, then use a magic machine to put them together in a new shape that farts and asks for tea, I've not imbued the items with some material substance that was not there before to make it alive, it's just the same items as before in a new shape with the difference that they're very slowly burning in a way that wants tea and causes flatulence.

The difference between a burning match and a grasshopper is one of complexity, not of a fundamental universal natural difference. The word 'life' is like the Fahrenheit scale; it serves to demarcate the world in a way that makes it easier for us to understand at our scale and with our level of understanding. It's a comparison to ourselves. When we say something is 'alive', we mean 'alive like I'm alive'. We are the metric, which is why we do not consider other complex chemical reactions to be alive despite the fact that simpler reactions like fire really do match up with the basic tenets of life.

I have no doubt that should we encounter an alien entity that has slow, deeply nuanced and complicated thoughts on the timescale of the lives of stars, it would consider all of our thrashings to be no more complicated and difficult to understand than basic chemistry. It would not consider our individual selves to be alive any more than you consider a single cell in your body to be independently alive. We would not be 'alive like it' is alive, but that won't change that we feel that we are 'alive like us' alive, because our definition of life has our kind of life at the center of it.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#45194497)

At what arbitrary point does a chemical reaction jump from being 'just' a chemical reaction to being a chemical reaction that qualifies as 'life'?

Note that this is fundamentally human-centric question. Life is a word that we made up, there is no intrinsic property of life.

True that we made up the word life, but untrue that it has no property. It's also worth pointing out that we are the only species that can communicate complex concepts, that we know of, so it's not a relevant point to make. For all we know whales could have defined "life" long before us and we don't understand what they are saying, or species that went extinct millions of years ago could have been first to discuss "life".

While I agree that we can't pinpoint a precise definition of "thing" that makes something live we have a laundry list of descriptions of properties of "life", "living", "alive", etc.. We also know that life can end, so we define death as the absence of life in a once living creature. We know life occurs, we can test for numerous properties that indicate something living, but we don't have a magic element we can look at and say when this X is present it's "life".

The difference between a burning match and a grasshopper is one of complexity, not of a fundamental universal natural difference. The word 'life' is like the Fahrenheit scale; it serves to demarcate the world in a way that makes it easier for us to understand at our scale and with our level of understanding.

This is at least an incorrect analogy. If we can't make a claim to know exactly what "life" is, how can you make a claim that it's equivalent to a measurement? Not only is that a false analogy, but it seems to be rather irrational given what we do "know" about the properties of life. I don't mean to imply that you are irrational, as I'm guessing it's just a poor method of trying to explain or rationalize something we have very little knowledge of.

It's a comparison to ourselves. When we say something is 'alive', we mean 'alive like I'm alive'. We are the metric, which is why we do not consider other complex chemical reactions to be alive despite the fact that simpler reactions like fire really do match up with the basic tenets of life.

This also is incorrect. We have learned enough about "life" to realize that things like air, water, and fire are not "life" as we used to believe. That said, we know an amoeba is living and don't need ourselves to make that determination. We use properties of the cell to make that determination such as mobility, replication, ingestion, defecation, etc... As stated, we know numerous properties of a thing being alive but we don't have a clue as to what the magic part is that makes it a living thing.

I have no doubt that should we encounter an alien entity that has slow, deeply nuanced and complicated thoughts on the timescale of the lives of stars, it would consider all of our thrashings to be no more complicated and difficult to understand than basic chemistry. It would not consider our individual selves to be alive any more than you consider a single cell in your body to be independently alive. We would not be 'alive like it' is alive, but that won't change that we feel that we are 'alive like us' alive, because our definition of life has our kind of life at the center of it.

Personally, I see that as a very pessimistic way of looking at yourself and the world. I would think that an Alien would understand more of the magic that makes something "live" and have much more respect for it. They would not have to be reminded as often of how complex and wonderful the human body is and diminish it by comparing it to a single cell which would die without the rest of the system to support it.

I find it sad how many people today dismiss the unknown and claim that they have no purpose except to die a few years after birth, especially when we know so little about "life". That's just me though, if you are happy thinking that way I won't stop you. Just don't try and convince me that I should think that way too.

Re:And Fire qualifies for many definitions of Life (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | about a year ago | (#45194519)

The funny thing about definitions is we often don't understand what they are describing until later on, and when we finally do we may wind with a definition which lies in contrast to our initial intuition. A good example would be "temperature." You may start out only with an idea that somethings feel warm or cold. Then you discover that you can use a thermometer to be quantitative about it, so now temperature is defined by the expansion of a particular liquid at normal pressure. But that doesn't make sense below the freezing point and above the boiling point (even in the liquid phase it is not *quite* linear). Eventually, you have temperature formulated very precisely in form of the derivative of entropy with respect to energy. But this is rather counterintuitive and now you can have things like "infinite temperature" and "negative temperature" which would have made no sense at all when your definition of temperature had only to do with how warm you felt by the fire.

So while we would intuitively like for only humans to have free will, as that's our only day-to-day experience of it, I don't count it all that unlikely that we may eventually give free will a quantitative definition (which could easily be coupled with the author's Question 3 and Question 4) in which case some things might possess it in very small quantities.

My phone has free will (5, Funny)

SeanTobin (138474) | about a year ago | (#45193783)

My smartphone definitely has free will. I can not predict when it will reboot on its own, when it will freeze on a screen or when it will lie to me about notifications. I think it not only has free will, but is also a sociopath!

Re:My phone has free will (4, Funny)

ImprovOmega (744717) | about a year ago | (#45194277)

Don't forget the random auto-"corrections" that it makes to what you type. Sometimes I think my phone is trying to get me killed...

[Text to Wife] Honey I'll be picking up some (chicken) chicks to eat tonight. See you at (home) hate you (gorgeous) gordo lady! P.S. (Veronica) Erotica at work was crazy today, tell you all about it later.

Prior Art - Daniel Dennett (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | about a year ago | (#45193845)

Daniel Dennett "Free Will Evolves" 2004 - makes the same argument.

Re:Prior Art - Daniel Dennett (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | about a year ago | (#45194073)

Correction: "Freedom Evolves"

Re:Prior Art - Daniel Dennett (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194395)

Nope. The author actually cites Dennett's book and the argument made is completely different. Instead of reading third-hand reporting written by a journalist, try the original paper at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

I don't see why not (1)

TsuruchiBrian (2731979) | about a year ago | (#45193865)

FTA:

The proof is an extension of Turing’s halting problem in computer science. This states that there is no general way of knowing how an algorithm will finish, other than to run it. What’s more, any attempt to determine the decider’s decision independently must take longer than the decider itself.

Since when does a simulation need to take longer than reality? The author assumes that a human mind is the most efficient vehicle to arrive at that human's decisions. This is not necessarily the case. I can run a simulation of an old computer on a much faster new computer to figure out what the old computer will do before it does it.

Re:I don't see why not (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#45194089)

Since when does a simulation need to take longer than reality?

It doesn't. WOPR taught us that. It ran through thousands of nuclear engagement simulations and scenarios in just a few minutes, and any real engagement would last for at least an hour.

I'm not sure whether my thermostat has free will or not. I have been asking it repeatedly "are you a decider?", and I can't decide if it lacks enough decision making ability to answer or knows I'm testing it and is refusing to answer on the grounds it may incriminate itself.

Re:I don't see why not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194127)

It's not about being faster by some constant factor, it's about time complexity. Any 2+ tape turing machine with worse than O(n) time complexity can be sped up by an arbitrarily large constant factor.

Re:I don't see why not (1)

kajsocc (2955535) | about a year ago | (#45194355)

The article is about computational time, i.e. computational complexity / number of operations, not actual physical running time. The number of computations a machine must perform to determine the output of another arbitrary machine (a description of which is given as input) must be, asymptotically speaking, at least as high as the simulated machine took, with the best possible algorithm being to just simulate it.

Re:I don't see why not (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194419)

No, he doesn't assume that. This is what you get for reading a slashdot summary rather than the original paper, which contains sentences such as

The indeterminate nature of a decision to the decider persists even if a neuroscientist monitoring her neural signals accurately predicts that decision before the decider herself knows what it will be.
Source: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

Boring article - we already know the science (0)

mynamestolen (2566945) | about a year ago | (#45193895)

Susan Blackmore at skeptics 2005 conference orchestrated an audience participation activity that replicated Libet’s experiments demonstrating that motor action potentials appear before a decision to move is made. That is, free will is an illusion.  “It would be very singular that all nature and all the stars should obey eternal laws, and that there should be one animal five feet tall which, despite these laws, could act as suited his caprice.” Voltaire
And here's some more links:
Sam Harris - a little verbose but worth reading
http://www.samharris.org/free-will
http://io9.com/5844679/scientists-attempt-to-prove-that-free-will-is-an-illusion

Re:Boring article - we already know the science (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193995)

Lose the monospace. It's not big, it's not clever and it's not the 80's any more.

Re:Boring article - we already know the science (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about a year ago | (#45194071)

I like it.

Re:Boring article - we already know the science (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#45194327)

It is hardly even unreadable.

Re:Boring article - we already know the science (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#45194335)

readable*

Purpose is not to resolve the problem of free will (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193907)

misleading slashdot headline

"The purpose of this paper for the Turing centenary volume is not to resolve the problem
of free will, but to present and to clarify some scientic results relevant to the problem."

Re:Purpose is not to resolve the problem of free w (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#45194321)

Specifically, the test is to determine if the taker is likely to think it has freewill.

Needs more clarification (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193911)

from TFA:

Q1: Am I a decider?

Q2: Do I make my decisions using recursive reasoning (ie using a process that can be simulated on a digital computer)?

Q3: Can I model and simulate—at least partially—my own behaviour and that of other deciders?

Q4: Can I predict my own decisions beforehand?

Provided you—or your iPhone—answer honestly, the answers give a straightforward indication about free will.

“If you answered Yes to questions 1 to 3, and you answer Yes to question 4, then you are lying. If you answer Yes to questions 1,2,3, and No to question 4, then you are likely to believe that you have free will,” says Lloyd.

So a simple device like a thermostat cannot believe it has free will, whereas a humans can.

What exactly is a decider, and what is meant by "predicting my own decisions"? I would define a decider anything making a decision, so a thermostat "decides" to turn on the heat when it is cold. I would define "predicting my own decisions" as making a deterministic decision given measurements and internal state. Why wouldn't a thermostat answer "yes" truthfully to all 4?

Q1: Am I a decider? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193935)

My phone will never be a "decider."

I control the phone. It goes in the trash if it disobeys me. Can a phone make a decision about whether it goes in the trash? No?

(...then it is not a "decider")

Re:Q1: Am I a decider? (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year ago | (#45194189)

Sure it can. If it believes that staying out of the trash requires doing what you want, it can decide where it goes.

So, before make the obvious statement to come, I'm going to ask "How do you know?"

Conscious free will (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45193949)

The question isn't if we have free will, but if our conscious self has free will. Usually by the time we think we've made a decision, our subconscious has already made the decision for us (when you get up, did you decide to do it? do you remember how you drove to work?). There's evidence that we can override the decision that our subconscious makes, so, maybe that's the extent of our free will.

Sloppy reasoning (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about a year ago | (#45193967)

"This states that there is no general way of knowing how an algorithm will finish, other than to run it. This means that when a human has to make a decision, there is no way of knowing in advance how it will end up. In other words, the familiar feeling of not knowing the final decision until it is thought through is a necessary feature of the decision-making process and why we have the impression of free will."

The conclusion from the halting problem to human decision making doesn't hold. Even if we allow that human decision making is an algorithmic process (which is a big if), it is not logically impossible to run that algorithm before the person in question makes the decision, which means there is a way of knowing in advance how it will end up. Secondly, the third quoted sentence is a complete non-sequitur. The preceding sentences do not argue in any way that the phenomenology of decision making is a necessary feature of the decision-making process, which leads me to believe the summarizer may not know what 'in other words' means. TFA may be better, but given what physicists have said about philosophy in the past I feel justified in making an induction-based judgement and not reading it.

Re:Sloppy reasoning (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194433)

The only thing sloppy here is the slashdot summary and poor journalistic reporting. This is not what the original paper reasons at all. A usual, go to the primary reference: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

Re:Sloppy reasoning (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194453)

PS the author explicitly states that someone may simulate the decider's decision process faster than the decider and predict the outcome of the decision before the decider makes it. What's discussed is the indeterminancy of the decision to the decider himself.

Does free will always mean unpredictable? (2)

mark-t (151149) | about a year ago | (#45193989)

Just because an entity's actions or decisions may be predictable does not mean that they have any less free will, it only means that previously identified habits or patterns have been identified which can be reasonably shown to influence the outcome.

If a small child puts their hand on a hot stove for the first time and they get burned, the fact that they aren't liable to do that again is fairly easy to predict, but isn't remotely an indication that some of their free will has been taken from them. If anything, the fact that they are not consciously making the specific choice to avoid their own discomfort in the future only affirms their free will, even though this is an expected and predictable response.

yes/no questions (1)

Spazmania (174582) | about a year ago | (#45194033)

Questions 2 and 4 pretend to be yes/no questions, but if you pay attention the answer to both is "sometimes." Yet the supposed test requires those questions to be answered yes or no.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Re:yes/no questions (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194471)

As usual, everything is about context. I suggest you refer to the primary reference: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf [arxiv.org]

Similar principal can define system boundaries (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | about a year ago | (#45194039)

Have you ever asked: What is the best place to draw the boundary of this system (or rather the boundary of each nested semi-autonomous subsystem), especially in cases where it isn't crystal clear, like an ant colony, a virus+modified-host lifesystem, a port city.

The best boundary definition is probably informational (process-description-oriented) rather than physical-snapshot based. Question: Which subset of stuff around here acting together has the most to do with (the most influence over) its own evolution though spacetime? Draw the boundary there. If we add more stuff (or more process) in, we are just reducing the thing's ability to influence its own evolution; the system is burdened with cruft. If we take stuff (or process) away, it doesn't work as well, and won't influence its fate as much, and won't last as long.

And if within one of those "best boundaries", the system inside is making decisions (and affecting its own fate) in ways that are computationally complex enough to be inherently unpredictable, and yet the system is hanging together, persisting in time, with a stable description possible of what it consists of then we may as well say definitely that the system is "free" and if we see that it appears to be acting on itself and its environment in controlled ways, we may as well say that it has "free will"; that is, that whatever is being systematic within that informational "best boundary" has "free will".

Healthcare Site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194041)

So that healthcare site isn't broken, it's just exercising its free will.

Re:Healthcare Site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194215)

Hopefully it's helping me with mine too...

God invented quantum mechanics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194053)

Imagine that the weirdness of quantum physics served as requirement for a feature of the universe: randomness. Quantum mechanics is so unnecessarily weird that god can't even understand it... and this is by design. ...To create a base class for entropy, from which free-will is eventually derived.

Apple is imperious, not your iPhone. (1)

Lendrick (314723) | about a year ago | (#45194069)

Saying an iPhone is conscious (an important component of free will) just because it tries to run your life is silly pseudoscience meant for news articles and not real thought. An iPhone runs your life because Apple programmed it that way.

Re:Apple is imperious, not your iPhone. (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#45194161)

An iPhone runs your life because Apple programmed it that way.

An iPhone runs your life because you chose to let it. The question remains, did you have free will in that decision? Let's ask Siri for her opinion.

Halting problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194113)

FTFA:

The test is based on an extension of Turing's halting problem in computer science. This states that there is no general way of knowing how an algorithm will finish, other than to run it.

This is not correct: running the algorithm can show that it will halt if it does within the time you let it run. However, if it does not halt during that time, you still don't know if it will halt - unless you would have infinite time*, which you don't have. So, the "other than to run it" part is false: there is no solution for the halting problem.

* Relativistic computing might provide infinite computing time, but it would involve (for example) moving a black hole near the entrance of a wormhole, and we don't even know if wormholes exist, so this is a purely theoretical possibility.

tl;dr The questions: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194119)

Q1: Am I a decider?
Q2: Do I make my decisions using recursive reasoning (ie using a process that can be simulated on a digital computer)?
Q3: Can I model and simulate—at least partially—my own behaviour and that of other deciders?
Q4: Can I predict my own decisions beforehand?

“If you answered Yes to questions 1 to 3, and you answer Yes to question 4, then you are lying. If you answer Yes to questions 1,2,3, and No to question 4, then you are likely to believe that you have free will,” says Lloyd.

Answering those questions myself, I consider myself to be a decider (as in, I make decisions), I can model/simulate my and others' actions (I pride myself on it), and I can predict my own decisions (because I can model/simulate them). So I'm lying. But where is the lie? Am I misinterpreting the term "decider"?
And then there's the question of having free will. I have the freedom to modify my thinking processes at any time should I not like a decision I have arrived at. Thus I have free will - at least I consider it to be - yet I would answer "yes" to all four questions.

Random behavior? (2)

edibobb (113989) | about a year ago | (#45194131)

Does a random number generator have free will?

Re:Random behavior? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194337)

I sometimes punch my friends and get myself arrested, just to prove that I have free will.

How much did /. get for this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194149)

... obvious IPhone advertisement?

I have no mouth... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194171)

and I must SCREAM...

Another good way to tell.

"The mind is what the brain does"* (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#45194191)

We can't prove "free will" isn't instinctively driven with physical causes any better than we can prove the condition of Schrodinger's Cat.

*courtesy National Geographic

Actual Questions HERE! (4, Funny)

mythosaz (572040) | about a year ago | (#45194197)

1. It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
2. You've got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
3. You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
4. You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Tony, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Tony. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?
5. Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.

Re:Actual Questions HERE! (2)

mythosaz (572040) | about a year ago | (#45194229)

If they pass that portion of the test, engage them in some more dialog - more rhetorical in nature than direct questions...

6. In a magazine you come across a full-page photo of a nude girl.
7. You show the picture to your husband. He likes it and hangs it on the wall. The girl is lying on a bearskin rug.
8. You become pregnant by a man who runs off with your best friend, and you decide to get an abortion.
9. Last question. You're watching an old movie. It shows a banquet in progress, the guests are enjoying raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog stuffed with rice. The raw oysters are less acceptable to you than a dish of boiled dog.

Re:Actual Questions HERE! (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#45194331)

1. Itâ(TM)s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?

A: now if I only had some money to put in it. Please give me money.

2. You've got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?

A: I'm a butterfly, you insensitive clod!

3. You're watching television. Suddenly you realize there's a wasp crawling on your arm.

A: "Mom! There's a wasp on my arm! Come downstairs and kill it for me!

4. Youâ(TM)re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Tony,

A: my tortoise's name is Filbert.

5. Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.

A: she brings my dinner down into the basement, does my laundry once a month whether I need it or not, and kills wasps that crawl on my arms. Those are all single words, aren't they?

Re:Actual Questions HERE! (1)

Prune (557140) | about a year ago | (#45194483)

I couldn't figure it out until I saw the last question and the images from Bladerunner popped up in my memory.

Well done, sir.

Before I even consider this... (1)

istartedi (132515) | about a year ago | (#45194209)

Before I even consider this, I'd like to have a rigorous definition of free will... although I'm not really sure what it is that makes me want that.

The Time Bandits test (2)

TheloniousToady (3343045) | about a year ago | (#45194243)

From Time Bandits:

Kevin: Yes, why does there have to be evil?
Supreme Being: I think it has something to do with free will.

Yet the questions in the article didn't seem to cover the subject of "evil". Can a phone with supposed free will do evil, or is it just infected with a bug or virus? Here's Jessica Rabbit's take:

I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way.

Like many cartoon characters, Jessica evidently is sentient, yet she lacks free will. Silly wabbit.

Not many have free will (1)

slew (2918) | about a year ago | (#45194265)

I'm sure that given a strict interpretation of the set of criteria listed, not many folks would likely have free will. The first questions 1-3 sort of indicate the ability to make a decision, but the last question "can you predict your decision in advance?" is likely to be true for many decisions that people might make.

For example, a movie comes out (say like gravity or elysium). Certainly, you are a decider (you can choose to go or not go to the movie and say bicycle or go to a party), and you can make you decison using recursive reasoning, and you the ability to approximate that decision for yourself and the friends you are likely to see the movie with... Yet, you can predict with nearly 100% certainty that you will (or for some people will not) see the movie. According to this test, you are either lying (you can't predict), or you are not the decider (maybe hollywood has already decided you will see the movie and you have no free will in this matter).

I think the flaw is that it is nearly impossible to distinguish actual prediction from highly correlated estimations (e.g., I saw all the other sci-fi movies that came out before, so I'll make similar decisions in the future). To partially fix this I think these types of tests should restrict their analysis to isolated, novel decisions.

Of course if you can mark all habitual or predictable behaviours as the person not being the decider (kinda like how AA folks concede that they are powerless to make decisions). But to me that is basically a sad outcome as the number of novel decisions in life we actually make that are not predictable (vs the ones that we have "help" making and thus are not the decider) is small. Many folks might even be able to predict these rare deicions because of our joint conciousness (e.g., we are aculturated to make similar decision as the rest of society or if you are a rebel to make the predictable anti-decision), which leads us to the sad conclusion that the main function of any society is to deprive us of free will (even for the anti-social folks). You almost need to be asocial to have free will.

Oh, not again. (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#45194295)

Again, someone ran into the halting problem and thought they could say something profound about it. Worse, they got tangled up with "free will", which is theology, not physics or compute science.

A deterministic machine with finite memory must either repeat a state or halt. The halting problem applies only to infinite-memory machines. A halting problem for a finite program can be made very hard, even arbitrarily hard, but not infinitely hard.

As a practical matter, there's a widely used program that tries to solve the halting problem by formal means - the Microsoft Static Driver Verifier. [microsoft.com] Every signed driver for Windows 7 and later has been through that verifier, which attempts to formally prove that the driver will not infinitely loop, break the system memory model with a bad pointer, or incorrectly call a driver-level API. In other words, it is trying to prove that the driver won't screw up the rest of the OS kernel. This is a real proof of correctness system in widespread use.

The verifier reports Pass, Fail, or Inconclusive. Inconclusive is reported if the verifier runs out of time or memory space. That's usually an indication that the driver's logic is a mess. If you're getting close to undecidability in a device driver, it's not a good thing.

Smartphones (1)

steelfood (895457) | about a year ago | (#45194319)

[Smartphones] 'seems to possess all the criteria required for free will, and behaves as if it has it.'

It doesn't have "free" will. It's actually the will of the application developers imposed upon your device. But you let them when you installed their app, so it's ok.

I'm not sure physicists are the best people to decide what has free will or not (or even exhibits the behavior of having free will). Free will involves not just having choices, but making the choice based on a difference in the weighing of various factors. Choosing at random is not free will, though choosing to choose at random is. Assigning a random weight to each factor is also not free will, as the factors are assigned.

Free will is a meta-epistemological concept. It doesn't deal with our knowledge, but deals with how we deal with our knowledge. In fact, people (namely myself and certain other schools of thought) aren't even sure humans have real free will. What we have is probably closer to pseudo-free will. The weights I mentioned above are pre-determined by our genetics, and shift as we gain experience.

If we don't have free will, how can we determine if something else has it or not? Hell, how can we even define it properly? For all we know, our definition is, and any attempt at it will be, flawed (like the rest of us).

"Unveiling"? (1)

Myu (823582) | about a year ago | (#45194325)

This is a conceptual analysis, so I don't think "unveiling" is the right turn of phrase. "Proposing" is probably a much better line, and it may or may not be "Accepted" by people at a later stage. A conceptual analysis isn't something that you discover, nor is it something that you invent. The idea of someone taking credit for a conceptual analysis of free will just seems plainly silly.

Halting Problem (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about a year ago | (#45194341)

This states that there is no general way of knowing how an algorithm will finish, other than to run it.

The above statement is simply false. What Wikipedia has is closer to what I remember from college:

Given a description of an arbitrary computer program, decide whether the program finishes running or continues to run forever.

Halting problem has nothing to do with knowing how a specific computer program will work. Or knowing what the program will return. There are plenty of examples of programs we can safely know will stop. I can look at a specific program and deduce its output. With many programs I can do this faster than running the program. But the general idea is kinda of sound. Some calculations take time or additional data. But then the article goes bonkers and has thermostats asking themselves questions. There is also no test listed in the article that is anything like the "Turing Test". The turing test is a real test that you can perform.

A test of free will (1)

SuperCharlie (1068072) | about a year ago | (#45194353)

Raise up your hand.

Do it.

Not really..raise up your hand.



now.. did you do it?



And there we are.

Why the preoccupation with indeterminancy? (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | about a year ago | (#45194357)

I have never understood the assumption that free will means choices cannot be known ahead of time. To me, it seems that the presence of free will can potentially mean that outcomes are *more* constrained than in a strictly physical system, i.e., inspection of the quantum mechanical wave function may not lead to a solid prediction on whether I will or will not kill someone, but if I have chosen to follow a moral prohibition against murder, then it can be known (at least to myself) that I will not kill them.

Sam Harris (-1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | about a year ago | (#45194373)

Sam Harris has delivered a presentation [youtube.com] which, as far as I can tell, essentially closes the book on this issue. We don't have free will. Our actions either regress to prior causes and we are ultimately not responsible for them (you didn't control the circumstances of your birth or upbringing), or randomness inherent in a chaotic system; and we can't be held accountable for randomness either. You can't get free will out of any combination of randomness and prior causes. Harris also easily demonstrates how free will isn't even subjectively true once you pay close attention to your own consciousness.

And he beautifully cuts through any ethical objections people have to abandoning free will, exposing the fallacy that free will is the only basis for a fair system of justice. Punitive justice is no longer a coherent idea when people aren't responsible for their actions, but we still have complete justification for locking people up if they are dangerous. We would no longer feel that people need to "suffer" for their crimes. Justice becomes what it should always have been, protecting society from harm, without the infliction of suffering for its own sake to "purify" wrongdoers.

Hate itself is completely eroded, it's no longer a meaningful concept to apply to your fellow man. I think this is one of the most important and profound ideas humanity has developed, and could do real work to improve all of our lives if widely adopted. We are all discovering, moment to moment, what it is to be ourselves.

So let me get this straight . . . (1)

mmell (832646) | about a year ago | (#45194417)

Philosophers, theologians, men of great intellect and depth have spent lifetimes failing to completely define what exactly "free will" even is, and these guys think they have a test for whether it's present or not? Oi!

Sort of like the Glasgow Conscoiusness Scale (GCS) - from what I can undersand, your average block of wood rates around a 3-4.

Random Number Generator (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194489)

So does a random number generator have free will? (provided the table/seed is unknown)

iPhones? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45194509)

How about human beings?

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