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Saturday, August 3, 2019

When Do Robots Have Free Will? Exploring the Relationships between (Attributions of) Consciousness and Free Will

Eddy Nahmias, Corey Allen, & Bradley Loveall
Georgia State University

From the Conclusion:

If future research bolsters our initial findings, then it would appear that when people consider whether agents are free and responsible, they are considering whether the agents have capacities to feel emotions more than whether they have conscious sensations or even capacities to deliberate or reason. It’s difficult to know whether people assume that phenomenal consciousness is required for or enhances capacities to deliberate and reason. And of course, we do not deny that cognitive capacities for self-reflection, imagination, and reasoning are crucial for free and responsible agency (see, e.g., Nahmias 2018). For instance, once considering agents that are assumed to have phenomenal consciousness, such as humans, it is likely that people’s attributions of free will and responsibility decrease in response to information that an agent has severely diminished reasoning capacities. But people seem to have intuitions that support the idea that an essential condition for free will is the capacity to experience conscious emotions.  And we find it plausible that these intuitions indicate that people take it to be essential to being a free agent that one can feel the emotions involved in reactive attitudes and in genuinely caring about one’s choices and their outcomes.


Perhaps, fiction points us towards the truth here. In most fictional portrayals of artificial intelligence and robots (such as Blade Runner, A.I., and Westworld), viewers tend to think of the robots differently when they are portrayed in a way that suggests they express and feel emotions.  No matter how intelligent or complex their behavior, the robots do not come across as free and autonomous until they seem to care about what happens to them (and perhaps others). Often this is portrayed by their showing fear of their own or others’ deaths, or expressing love, anger, or joy. Sometimes it is portrayed by the robots’ expressing reactive attitudes, such as indignation about how humans treat them, or our feeling such attitudes towards them, for instance when they harm humans.

The research paper is here.

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