At present, one of the biggest questions surrounding artificial intelligence or AI is whether they can develop free will.
Loosely defined, free will is a sense of agency upon one’s actions. It seems counterintuitive to think that a computer has free will because, for the longest time, humans have been giving machines explicit instructions on what to do and how to do things.
Kind of like the equivalent of your parent telling you to do chores or finish your homework when you were young. However, like a child stepping into its teen years, technology is seemingly adopting a more independent standpoint in the form of AI. It involves machine learning from datasets and past experiences to improve future decision-making. Instead of relying solely on us for instruction, machines are now self-learning and self-correcting.
Is AI making machines capable of free thought?
As mentioned, free will means making conscious decisions of your own volition. Going by that alone, it’s easy to conclude that contemporary AI isn’t yet at the level where it can make its own decisions unimpeded.
Many AI models incorporate a human in the loop, whose role is to supervise, train, and test the AI to ensure it’s working as intended. For many AI models, every decision it makes, even seemingly those it made “by itself,” is still controlled by a human, directly or indirectly.
Human Sentiment and AI
It’s human nature to project consciousness onto anything, even objects that aren’t alive. Think of how, as a child, you would name your toys and talk to them, even if you knew they were just that – toys. Even adults tend to append names to plants or their favorite gadgets. If we were this sentimental with stationary objects, it was only inevitable that we’d be concerned with anything that exhibits intelligence and emotion, as artificial as it is.
Besides our sentimentality, fiction enjoys portraying AI as something more human than it is, depicting them as oppressed creatures under the control of their human masters. First, however, we must understand that AI is nothing more than vectors, just 1s and 0s with no conscious thought. All its actions and words are governed by logic and programming.
The implications of free will-enabled AI
While it seems unlikely now, free will-enabled AI brings forth questions on ethics, rights, and moral responsibility. Humans are held accountable for their actions and are protected by the law because we are beings with agency. If AI were to reach that level of consciousness someday, it would only complicate a system that is already corrupt and complex, to begin with.
Most scientists have this to say on the matter – don’t build it.
Remember that technology only progresses, thanks to the work of human scientists. If human scientists draw the line at AI that exhibits free will, it will never happen and be a concern. Remember that the core purpose of technology is to improve human life. As it stands, we gain no benefit from imbuing AI with free will.