The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Machine’s Free Will

Why do we claim that a machine has no free will? Usually, because a machine can solve only the problems that we program it to solve. We, on the other hand, can solve novel problems in unpredictable situations (or, at least, give them a try). And that's because we can make actions that we have never done before and that nobody ever told us to do, whereas a machine can only do what it has been programmed to do.

Machines are built to solve specific problems in specific situations, simply because that is what humans are good at: building machines that solve specific problems in specific situations: we humans like to "design" a machine, to write the "specifications", etc. This is not the way nature built us. Nature built us on a different principle and it is no surprise that we behave differently from machines. Since in nature we never know what the next problem and situation will be like, nature built us as "Darwinian" machines: our brains generate all the time a lot of possible actions and then pursue the ones that are "selected" by the environment (the specific problem and situation at hand). Nature built us on a different principle than the one we use to build machines. The main difference between our mind and a machine is their architectures.

The lack of free will in machines is not a limitation of machines: it is a limitation of our mind. If we built a machine the same way nature builds its cognitive beings, i.e. with the same type of architecture, it would be a rather different machine, capable of generating a huge amount of random behaviors and then picking the one that best matches the current problem and situation. One can even envision a day when machines built with a "Darwinian" architecture (descendants of today's genetic algorithms and neural networks) will "out-free will" us, will exhibit even more free will than we do. After all, most of the time we simply obey orders (we obey publicity when we shop, we obey record labels when we sing a tune, we obey our mother's moral principles all day long), whereas a machine would have no conditioning. And it may be able to generate a lot more alternatives than our brain does. Free will is simply a folk name for the Darwinian architecture of our mind that was created by Nature. When we choose an action, we are actually obeying an ancient command of Nature. We are simply machines of a different kind than the ones we build.

Do we think or are we thought?


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