The use of algorithms to make decisions for us is pervasive and in my view a threat to creativity, camaraderie, an embodied life, a spontaneous life, a life allowing contingent responses, a life of loyalty, warmth, and solidarity. Whether or not you find the question of free will intrinsically meaningful to contemplate; it needs to be grappled with in order to respond to questions raised by the increasing application of algorithms to nudge, guide and enforce choices and actions in service of commercial imperatives and the cult of efficiency, in software used by government agencies to determine eligibility for government assistance divorced from human evaluation, and self-improvement apps in pursuit of optimal behavior and emotional well being (which I don’t see as an unmitigated good because they seek to eliminate the “poor choices” that might be driven by passion and emotion by applying reason and rationalization to all our choices thereby suppressing important aspects of being human: making mistakes, experiencing pain, being flawed.)
In the original discussion, Doug referred to AI or algorithms that might “know” ourselves better than we do. I don’t think he meant “know” in the sense of conscious knowledge. What I think he may have been referring to is the ability of computer programs to predict outcomes based on aggregate data and find connections we didn’t see and may not even understand after they are discovered. The software might show us that certain behaviors we wouldn’t have considered relevant consistently lead to certain outcomes. Yes, of course a person coded that software and designed the algorithms, but the software and it’s application to collected data uncovered things the human analyst would not have uncovered, and depending on how it is programmed it can ‘make decisions’ based on human programming but play out in ways the human engineer did not anticipate (for instance the many unintended consequences of Facebook’s behavioral modification design).
These revealed patterns and connections could be applied for the good in our lives; but my concern is whether I am going to be able to decide what to do with that information. I may want to ignore it because it is more important to me to be autonomous than to be “healthy” or behave optimally.
And this is when I find people saying to me – you aren’t autonomous anyway since you don’t have free will. People often repeat a truism along the lines of “freedom is an illusion.” Since that viewpoint seems to be prevailing, at least in the secular world as I encounter it, I feel the need to engage and challenge it since it is leading people to surrender to and view the future being imposed on us by a few technology companies as some inevitable force of evolution or history.