The idea that I could be simulated on a computer seems at odds with my subjective experience of free will and my intuition that my future actions are not yet determined — I am free to choose them. But consider a computer program that plays chess. In actual chess playing programs the program "considers" individual moves and "works out" the consequences of each move. This is a rather high level description of the calculation that is done, but it is fair to say that the program "considers options" and "evaluates consequences". When I say, as a human being, that I have to choose between two options, and that I have not decided yet, this seems no different to me from the situation of a chess playing computer before it has finished its calculation. The computer's move is determined — it is a deterministic process — and yet it still has "options". To say "the computer could move pawn to king four" is true provided that we interpret "could do x" as "it is a legal option for the computer to do x". To say that I am free is simply so say that I have options (and I should consider them and look before I leap). But having options, in the sense of the legal moves of chess, is compatible with selecting an option using a deterministic computation. A chess playing program shows that a determined system can have free will, i.e., can have options. So free will (having options) is compatible with determinism and there is no conflict.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Does a Chess Program have Free Will?
A non-CS Chicago Alum asked me a question about free will and computation. I passed the question to David McAllester, an AI professor at TTI, and he gave the following interesting reply.