Free will—or algorithms?

freee will 2
Image by Mario Ohibsky || CC0

No free will?

Last week (“No free will?”) we followed historian/author Yuval Noah Harari in raising some crucially significant questions regarding free will and the impact technology may soon have on our human future.

I shared a curious Homo Deus quote. Harari writes:

If we want to understand our life and our future, we should make every effort to understand what an algorithm is, and how algorithms are connected with emotions. [pg. 83]

So, “…how algorithms are connected with emotions” seems intriguing. I’d like to begin this week with more on Harari’s understanding of emotions and algorithms:



Yeah, let’s allow our eyes and visual-linguistic cognition to take that in, too:

A lot of people, especially in the AI business, tend to confuse intelligence with consciousness. But they are very different things. Intelligence is, basically, the ability to solve problems. And consciousness is the ability to feel things, to have emotions and sensations and subjective experiences. Now, in humans, and in all mammals, intelligence and consciousness go together. The way in which mammals, including humans, solve many problems is through feelings, through emotions. Emotions are not the opposite of rationality, of intelligence. They are the embodiment of evolutionary rationality.


Image by Alexandra Haynak || CC0

Harari’s simple direct definitions allow us to make some quick connections. By defining intelligence as the ability to solve problems, algorithms [artificial intelligence: AI] are immediately proximate. We see intelligence as an algorithm/see rationality as an algorithm.

Note, I don’t know if Harari means to conflate intelligence and rationality, or not. I need to discover/discern more of what “evolutionary rationality” means to Harari. I tend to see rationality (and emotions) as subsets of intelligence—rationality (and emotions) as forms of problem solving. I feel Harari argues that intelligence exhibited by trees provides evidence of the (non-conscious) ‘reasoning’ of evolution, an ‘evolutionary rationality.’



Decoupling Intelligence and Consciousness

Harari asserts: “…in humans, and in all mammals, intelligence and consciousness go together.” As far as we know, consciousness is strictly confined to biological life. So, while we’re reasonably confident your refrigerator has no consciousness, with the inclusion of AI technology, your refrigerator may have incredible intelligence. The constraints on intelligence presented by organic biological hosts are now being overcome, intelligence is escaping/shedding/leaving its mortal coil.

Harari’s concise caution:


“This is a very scary thought.”

Agreed. Apparently, our evolutionary rationality is quite uneasy with any notion of non-biological forms of non-conscious intelligence. 


emotions generic


I feel Harari’s “evolutionary rationality” suggests emotions are like a shorthand for rationality over the long-term‘time-distilled reason.’ Daniel N. Stern championed the psychological notion of RIGs: Representations of Interactions that have been Generalized. Perhaps ‘evolutionary rationality’ is something akin, like the condensation of RIGs into emotions, thus creating a short-form, quick-response algorithm (e.g., fight or flight):

“Rather, emotions are bio-chemical algorithms that are vital for the survival and reproduction of all mammals.” [‘Homo Deus’ pg. 83]

Harari’s assertion that all mammals process reality with emotional algorithms carries some very heavy implications for our human conscience. Here’s a brief passage from Homo Deus that includes a pertaining argument:


Harari pigs meme
Image by PublicDomainImages || CC0

Then, too, there’s this anticipation from 1968:



“Open the refrigerator door, please, Alexa.”

“Useless humans”

Harari argues that advances in AI/machine learning technologies are rapidly making humans marginally useful, at best:



Universal Basic Income won’t fix this. We’ll pick-up on the grave implications next time.

Subversive thinking?

In a recent conversation someone mentioned that their grandson’s high school history class was using Sapiens as a course text. I couldn’t be more pleased that these ideas are gaining a platform in high school discourse. However, it’s likely that not all my neighbors in the Heartland of the U.S.A. would be as enthused. In fact, parts of Harari’s thought may provoke concern for some.

Harari is not Christian, nor even a theist. He has no agenda whatsoever to protect those interests. I doubt that Harari would push-back on the assertion that he harbors hostility toward religion, perhaps even spiritual and theistic stories, as well. This can be quite unsettling to parents who are trying to raise their children within a religious tradition and framework. Nonetheless, Harari is presenting some very challenging ideas to a broad audience. I hope/pray people set aside Harari’s dismissal of spirit, and take in his crucially important arguments/ideas anyway.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has employed a serial approach to outline Spiral Dynamics. Introduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key

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