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Saturday, April 27, 2019

When Would a Robot Have Free Will?

Eddy Nahmias
The NeuroEthics Blog
Originally posted April 1, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

Joshua Shepherd (2015) had found evidence that people judge humanoid robots that behave like humans and are described as conscious to be free and responsible more than robots that carry out these behaviors without consciousness. We wanted to explore what sorts of consciousness influence attributions of free will and moral responsibility—i.e., deserving praise and blame for one’s actions. We developed several scenarios describing futuristic humanoid robots or aliens, in which they were described as either having or as lacking: conscious sensations, conscious emotions, and language and intelligence. We found that people’s attributions of free will generally track their attributions of conscious emotions more than attributions of conscious sensory experiences or intelligence and language. Consistent with this, we also found that people are more willing to attribute free will to aliens than robots, and in more recent studies, we see that people also attribute free will to many animals, with dolphins and dogs near the levels attributed to human adults.

These results suggest two interesting implications. First, when philosophers analyze free will in terms of the control required to be morally responsible—e.g., being ‘reasons-responsive’—they may be creating a term of art (perhaps a useful one). Laypersons seem to distinguish the capacity to have free will from the capacities required to be responsible. Our studies suggest that people may be willing to hold intelligent but non-conscious robots or aliens responsible even when they are less willing to attribute to them free will.


A second interesting implication of our results is that many people seem to think that having a biological body and conscious feelings and emotions are important for having free will. The question is: why? Philosophers and scientists have often asserted that consciousness is required for free will, but most have been vague about what the relationship is. One plausible possibility we are exploring is that people think that what matters for an agent to have free will is that things can really matter to the agent. And for anything to matter to an agent, she has to be able to care—that is, she has to have foundational, intrinsic motivations that ground and guide her other motivations and decisions.

The info is here.

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