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The Value of ‘Free Will’ in a Digital Age


Human consciousness provides individuals with a capacity that non-conscious AI cannot acquire. Despite this fact, one of the most debated topics in the field of AI (artificial intelligence) is whether human-beings would be useless in the coming technological dystopia.

One of the crucial tasks that machines could not surpass human-beings is the weighing of incommensurables which is a crucial aspect of plausible reasoning. Even if algorithms designed by human-beings would surpass them in many areas of intelligence, machines might need to rely on human advice as to how they should act, or perhaps delegate that work to human-beings when it comes to making use of their skills of plausible reasoning. Apparently, there needs to be a new type of division of labor among the machines and human beings. It would no exaggeration to say that the economic value of the weighing of incommensurables would require the latest technologies to collaborate with human-beings for certain kinds of work that are instrumental to their aims.

On the other hand, there is the popular belief shared among many people that the algorithms may use their knowledge of individuals in order to manipulate them. They may use their knowledge to make suggestions- based on their intimate knowledge of them- which would probably be followed by human beings. Yet, given individual consciousness and free will, there will be a limit to the extent to which such personal choices can be predicted regardless of the amount of knowledge about them.

Another common belief is that choices affecting personal characters may be made by individuals. While the algorithms would not necessarily need to know with certainty how individuals could act, a fairly good predictability would suffice for an effective collaboration among machines and human beings.

Given such speculations on how the algorithmic nature of individual agency may negatively impact on our very ability to compete with AI, it may be useful to raise the question of whether consciousness and free will are worth anything in our digital age. Some individuals think that consciousness has little financial value, and human future looks bleak. However, if scholarly arguments about consciousness, plausible reasoning and free will are sound, then human-beings should definitely be not seen as algorithmic choosers. As a consequence, the conscious exercise of free will, by way of plausible reasoning, might mitigate some of the negative consequences. In particular, consciousness might give individuals a valuable capacity that helps them decide what to believe, and what to do, when faced with incommensurables. Crucially, this would be a capacity that non-conscious AI lacks.

Human-beings might retain some value in a technological dystopia because of the continuing value of consciousness and free will. Mostly, in the free will debates, questions about freedom have been addressed, yet if one now asks what turns on the issue of whether individuals have free will, the answer might be: individual livelihoods.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bosphorus University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including those for Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley where she worked as a researcher for companies like Facebook and Google.


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