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“If I could only go back and do it again,” I hear people lament. “If I only knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently.”
But, says logic, if you went back in time, you would still make the same decision, for good or ill. Because at that time you acted on the basis of the knowledge you had. All of the knowledge you had. And if you went back, that would still be the same. Because you can’t take 50 additional years of experience and learning back with you.
You were what you were. And your decisions were determined for you by your experiences.
All of this depends on an underlying assumption – that we humans are nothing more than a product of our environment.
Or, to put it in more traditional language, that we have no free will.
Categories: Soft Edges
Tags: algorithms, free will, determinism
Joan and I bought a new car recently. It almost makes me obsolete. It will brake if there’s something in front. It will brake if there’s something behind. It will slow down when the car in front slows down. It will stay in its own lane. It will warn me if I’m not paying enough attention.
All these programs run on what’s called an algorithm. Basically, that’s a computer program, a step by step set of coded instructions that’s supposed to take into account all possible circumstances.
An algorithm has no ethical principles. It is utterly amoral. It just does what it’s told to do.
I wonder what it would do with the classic question posed by ethicists. There’s a beautiful maiden strapped to the railway tracks. And a runaway train coming. You can’t stop the train. But you could throw a switch and divert the train onto a different track, where it will wipe out a work crew.
Tags: ethics, algorithms, cars