Monday, May 3, 2021

Does Quantum AI have Free Will?

A new paper argues that a quantum computer could be conscious, and have free will.

Since I am skeptical that quantum computer will ever achieve quantum supremacy, you probably think that I dismiss this as nuts. Actually I don't.

Turing machines are deterministic, and do not have free will. But I believe humans do. The mechanism is not understood, and may involve quantum mechanics. So maybe a quantum computer can do that, even if cannot factor large numbers.

The London Guardian has a good essay on the arguments about free will. It says:

Harris argues that if we fully grasped the case against free will, it would be difficult to hate other people: how can you hate someone you don’t blame for their actions? Yet love would survive largely unscathed, ...

I personally can’t claim to find the case against free will ultimately persuasive; it’s just at odds with too much else that seems obviously true about life.

I agree with that last sentence. A lot of intellectuals reject free will, but in the process they also reject a lot of things that seem obviously true.

I do not agree with the love/hate analysis. If I believe that someone has no free will, and is merely a preprogrammed robot to do evil things, then sure, that is a good reason to hate him. He would be a sub-human evil nuisance. A puppet of the devil. As for love, try telling your wife that you only love her because the chemicals in your body have made that illusion. Some psychologists say that, and I don't think it helps.

The article says that philosophers have gotten death threats over such issues.

Jerry Coyne endorses most of the essay, but argues:

Contracausal free will is the bedrock of Abrahamic religions, which of course have many adherents.
No. Islam doesn't accept free will. Moslems are always talking about God's will being carried out, as if no one can do anything about it. Jews have mixed views. Catholics believe strongly in free will, and so do many Protestants, but some, such as Calvinists, do not.

A previous Guardian essay by historian Yuval Noah Harari said:
Unfortunately, “free will” isn’t a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology. Theologians developed the idea of “free will” to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices. If our choices aren’t made freely, why should God punish or reward us for them? ...

You cannot decide what desires you have. You don’t decide to be introvert or extrovert, easy-going or anxious, gay or straight. Humans make choices – but they are never independent choices. ...

But now the belief in “free will” suddenly becomes dangerous. If governments and corporations succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will.

He is gay Israeli Jewish atheist. Perhaps he is a slave to his programming, but others are not.

Theologians did not invent free will. The Gospels use phrases like "go and sin no more". This assumes that you can choose to sin, or not sin.

You can decide to be an introvert or extravert. Change is not easy, but people do it.

No, the easiest to manipulate are those who think that they are already slaves.

Coyne argues:

Free will skepticism (sometimes called “hard determinism”). As you must know, this is the view to which I adhere. Though it’s often called “determinism”, with the implication that the laws of physics have already determined the entire future of the universe, including what you will do, that’s not my view. There is, if quantum mechanics be right, a fundamental form of indeterminism that is unpredictable, like when a given atom in a radioactive compound will decay. It’s unclear to what extent this fundamental unpredictability affects our actions or their predictability, but I’m sure it’s played some role in evolution (via mutation) or in the Big Bang (as Sean Carroll tells me). Thus I prefer to use the term “naturalism” rather than “determinism.” But, at any rate, fundamental quantum unpredictability cannot give us free will, for it has nothing to do with either “will” or “freedom”.
I call this argument: Only God has Free Will.

Coyne is an atheist, but he seems to believe in some sort of Spinoza God. Humans have no freedom or free will. We are just puppets being controlled. God is not a predictable robot, and can make choices for us and the world. God even guides evolution of biological species by directing mutations.

The phrase "fundamental quantum unpredictability" means that the human observer can only predict probabilities. It always leaves open the possibility that someone with more info could make a better prediction. If Coyne wants to believe that it is some sort of God making all our choices for us, I guess that possibility is allowed.

For example, a quantum mechanics textbook might say that a uranium atom has a certain probability of radioactive decay in the next hour. And maybe that is all that can be said with the info available. But nowhere will it say that it is impossible to make a better prediction, if the state of the atom could be more precisely determined. As a practical matter, it is hopeless to get the wavefunctions of all the quarks in a uranium nucleus, but the point remains that better info might give a better prediction.

In my opinion, attributing all the decisions in the world to a Spinoza God is contrary to common sense and experience, and does not really solve anything. It is like a turtle argument that atheists like to mock. In fact, I worry about the mental health of anyone who believes that, as it is similar to schizophrenics who say that they are obeying voices in their heads.


  1. It takes a certain kind of idiot to subscribe to an idea that basically invalidates their very own capacity for subscribing to ideas... even stupid ones.

    Pray tell, why would anyone ever take 'expert' advice from a self professed robot meat puppet who doesn't even believe in their own ability to decide for themselves? Is it a form of mental masochism? Self immolation? Circular onanism? Staring too long into the void or sun while on drugs? If you are going to blow up the house of reason, the very least you can do is not sit on the explosive with the damn detonator in your own hand.

    An infinite regress can not save a useless explanation.

  2. Dear Roger,

    Many points:

    1. >> "So maybe a quantum computer can do that, even if cannot factor large numbers."

    Nope. Even if a large-scale QC is built, it will still be a machine, an inanimate object. But free will requires life; only living beings have this faculty of a freely will-able consciousness.

    2. >> "The phrase 'fundamental quantum unpredictability' means that the human observer can only predict probabilities."

    Nope. That's not what the mainstream QM actually says. (Refer to the QM postulates. I've uploaded a compilation of the statements of postulates at my blog; see the post dated 4th Feb. 2021).

    The QM postulates only talk about the measurements and probabilities, but not about the conscious observer (which is special to *some* of the *interpretations*, but not to the QM postulates themselves).

    Consider a thought experiment. Suppose you set up a QM experiment in which the measurement apparatus is connected to a computerized data logger/printer. You send the whole thing to the outer space in an unmanned spaceship. The experiment is programmed to be performed after a while. Suppose further that in the meanwhile, all people die (say, the earth blows up and splinters or gasifies or whatever). As a physical theory, QM will still continue to apply to the apparatus aboard the spaceship, and even to the spaceship itself---not to mention to the physical particles from the now dead bodies of the people too.

    Now, the data generated by the experiments will still be, according to the QM postulates, statistically random but conforming to the rules of QM. That is, even if a human observer was no longer available when the experiment got going let alone to read the results.

    Another point: Just because the *postulates* mention probabilities, people think that the randomness is *fundamental*; that it is a basic feature of the physical reality itself. However, in my theory, it is not; it is the nonlinear dynamics (chaos) leading to an apparent randomness. Randomness cannot metaphysically exist.

    3. >> "As a practical matter, it is hopeless to get the wavefunctions of all the quarks in a uranium nucleus, but the point remains that better info might give a better prediction."

    In the mainstream QM, according to its postulates, the wavefunction *completely* describes the *state* of a QM system. Two implications.

    3.1. Any approximation introduced in the system wavefunction (*assumed* for a system) will directly lead to a *precisely* corresponding loss of information about that system.

    3.2. Completeness *also* implies that you cannot expect to obtain *more* information than what is already captured in the system wavefunction (also assuming the other postulates, esp. Born's probability interpretation).

    4. According to some Indian Indologists, the turtle shell was originally an analogy/metaphor for the modern plate tectonic theory. (Within my rather limited knowledge, no one has at least thus far charged Wegener or any one else of plagiarism.)

    5. A general comment:

    It's high time that people started recognizing the fact that free will means limited but free agency that an individual has. (By "agency", I do not mean to hint at a "parent" entity like God. I mean only the metaphysically existing capability of a living individual.) It refers to an agency to initiate, sustain, direct, control, etc., some of the actions of your mind (those which are "willable"), and thereby, also your body.

    It is true that you can't just mentally will, and thereby choose to float your body against gravity. But you can certainly will to lift your finger and also to put it down, as in typing. In fact, you can't even will to memorize the entire works of Shakespeare in 3 days flat. But memorizing even one stanza still involves choosing (willing) to do so. Nothing is without limits; every thing has a specific, delimited nature. Like life and consciousness, free will too has a specific nature.