Lecture and Participatory Experiment /
“From Brains to Bots … and Back!,” with Justin E. H. Smith

Date: Thursday, 29 November 2018, 7:30–9 pm
Location: Cabinet, Ebersstrasse 3, Berlin (map and directions here)
FREE. No RSVP necessary
Facebook Event

“Let us compute!”
—G. W. Leibniz, 1681

The computer scientist Judea Pearl recently observed: “You have the sensation of free will; evolution has equipped us with this sensation. Evidently, it serves some computational function.” His account of this sensation’s origins may be correct, yet free will at least seems very different from computation when we ourselves are making use of it. For one thing, unlike machine-based algorithms, our free will seems to us to involve the power to deviate from some sequence of predetermined steps, for no other reason than that we feel like doing so. Is this a significant difference?

This event will consist of two parts. The first will be a short talk by Justin E. H. Smith addressing the history of philosophical reflection, from Leibniz to Pearl, on the possibility of “free machines”—that is, of artificial systems that are capable of truly making decisions undetermined by prior sequences in their programs. In the second part, we will attempt to test this possibility experimentally, by turning ourselves into a collective algorithm using the Cloots Series 3 Collective Brain, a complex system of chatbots designed to generate human-like speech by successive addition of algorithmically determined words. By turning ourselves into, or perhaps back into, such an algorithm, we will see what becomes of our precious free will; together, we will become brains simulating machines simulating brains.

About the Participant
Justin E. H. Smith is a professor at and the director of the department of history and philosophy of science at Université Paris Diderot. His most recent book is Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (Princeton University Press, 2019).