[Computational Complexity] 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.
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.
Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 1/20/2005 08:02:11 AM