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FFAI Determinism and Free Will by Mind Map: FFAI Determinism and Free Will
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FFAI Determinism and Free Will


free will and determinism have a long and complicated history in philosophy

most of the literature on "free will" considers it an intrinsic property of a system

that leads to inconsistencies and contradictions

free will is often used as a "back door argument" to sneak in dualism, by appeal to intuition: "you have free will, therefore ... dualism must be true"

"free will" is easier to understand if you view it as theory that one agent has about the behavior of another agent

"From John's point of view, Jane has free will."

AI likely needs "free will", in the sense of interacting with humans in the way we expect humans to interact. I.e., an AI needs preferences, reasoning, the ability to choose, and the ability not to be arbitrarily overridden by other agents.

implications for morality, law

common recent argument: determinism means that there is no moral or legal responsibility for anything

we need to take into account for what purpose we determine "free will"

you go out and shoot someone for money

your goals and reasoning are incompatible with civilized society

free will

rehabilitation is difficult

you get put into a murderous rage by a brain electrode

your behavior was modified by factors beyond your control; remove the electrode and you'll be fine

no free will

rehabilitation is trivial

you get blackmailed into shooting someone

someone modified your cost function

"kill you or you kill him", "blow up NYC unless you kill him", "reveal your extramarital affair unless you kill him"

free will / no free will depending on the circumstances

rehabilitation depends on the details of the costs involved

you drink too much and kill someone while driving

your intent was not to kill, but your choice accepted that possibility

you don't have murderous intent, but rehabilitation of the irresponsible behavior is difficult

you take PCP and shoot someone

you made some bad choice, either taking the drug or shooting someone

rehabilitation is unpredictable

you get brainwashed into shooting someone

your choice was taken away from you, but your new set of goals and reasoning may make you a danger

rehabilitation is unpredictable


Greeks, Persians, Romans: fate is predetermined, possibly mechanical, or by gods

Hobbes (1600s): minds are mechanical and hence their actions are predetermined

Kant, Leibnitz (around 1800): minds have free will in at least some areas (inspired by religious thought)

Laplace (around 1800): the universe operates according to deterministic laws, and hence so do minds

Popper (around 1940): physical determinism doesn't exist because of quantum randomness and chaos

Hayek, von Mises (around 1950): it is computationally impossible to predict the behavior of complex systems


to come to terms with a definition, look at examples and hypotheticals


forced at gunpoint


behaviorism, conditioning

brain implant

reduction of "willpower" with drugs

voluntarily hypnotized

convinced by argument, appeal to self-interest, appeal to morality

nature of the choice



drink water

eat pasta vs eat steak



nature of the statement

"X has free will"

"X is rich"

"X plays the piano well"

commonality, they all involve attitudes of one person towards another, they are all questions of degree, the degree where we draw the line is relative to context and purpose

"free will" as a theory of mind

it's useful to predict other agents' behavior

constitutents, goals, agents have goals that they are trying to realize, environment, what conditions do you operate under?, rationality, agents act in a way that achieves their goals (to the degree that they are capable), free will, agent acts rationally in order to achieve its goals, bounded rationality, the ability of agents to act rationally is limited by computation, limited information, and noise, these do not limit "free will"

free will involves notions of choice, preference, reasoning, multiple agents, and causation

definitions, free will: rational, goal-directed behavior subject to bounds on rationality, violation of free will: a consistent deviation from rational goal-directed behavior due to the influence of an external agent

explanations, mechanisms don't have "free will" because they lack goals and rationality, current computers lack "free will" because, although they can reason, they don't have discernable goals, if an electrode is implanted in your brain and changes your behavior because your behavior isn't predictable from your goals and rationality anymore

observer dependence

talking about free will only makes sense when there are multiple agents involved

"free will" is not an absolute property of a system, it is a model that one agent has of another system

relative to me, you have "free will"

relative to an omniscient physicist with infinite computation and perfect knowledge of boundary conditions, no agent has "free will"

you're forced at gunpoint, if I know it, you are acting with free will, optimizing your payoff, if I don't know about it, you may not be acting with free will, since your actions violate what I would predict for a rational agent given your goals and environment

brain implant, a brain implant that modifies your behavior may remove your ability to act rationally according to your own goals

dualism in disguise

appeal to free will is really a way of trying to force people to accept dualism in some form

the argument is more driven by finding support for a belief than by explaining observation

implicit argument 1

people have free will

physical laws are deterministic

therefore, humans cannot be governed just by physical laws

implicit argument 2

physical laws are either deterministic or random

if we want any kind of non-determinism other than randomness, we need something "outside physics" to influence the physical world

cf computer science "oracle"

free will

distinguish from "freedom of action": you make a choice but cannot implement it

vs determinism

incompatibilism, determinism is incompatible with free will; if the future is perfectly determined, you do not have free will, this position may be restricted to those choices that are pre-determined by physical law, metaphysical libertarianism, determinism is false and therefore free will is possible, hard determinism, determinism is true and therefore free will is impossible

compatibilism, determinism and free will are compatible in principle, the concept of "free will" still makes sense even if in some sense the outcome is predetermined

religious origins

"Free will" has a long tradition in religious thought, among other things to address issues that arise around morality and faith.

origin of evil, If humans don't have free will and God predetermined everything, where does evil come from?

faith, If humans are not free to choose to accept God, what is the significance of faith?

basic issues


"the doctrine that all events, including human choices and decisions, have sufficient causes." (

Most computers operate deterministically.

free will

"the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces" (

AI-related argument

free will is an essential part of human intelligence

computers operate deterministically

free will requires the ability to operate without predetermination

therefore computers can't have free will

therefore computers can't be intelligent

connection with dualism

In substance dualism, the physical world is often considered deterministic, and free will derives from the mental substance.

Physicalism plus the assumption of determinism in physics eliminates free will for some.

connection with morality

If everything is predetermined, are you still responsible for your actions?


"A system is deterministic if, given a set of initial conditions, the future is perfectly determined."


There is an unbroken chain of cause and effect going back to the beginning of the universe.

Our current state is predetermined by the initial conditions.

classical physics

boundary conditions plus physical laws

perfectly predictable in theory, no source of randomness

in practice, systems are chaotic

quantum physics

boundary conditions plus physical laws

imperfect predictability: some properties are predetermined, others are due to chance

there is true physical randomness / unpredictability

computer science

deterministic computations always give the same answer in response to the same inputs

sources of non-determinism: choice, parallelism, source of physical randomness, oracle


"biological determinism": your genes determine your fate, intelligence, propensity for violence, crime, etc., claim that the environment plays some role, but your genes dominate it

"philosophical biological determinism": your genes and your biochemistry determine what you do




adequate determinism