Artificial Intelligence and Free Will in a Deterministic World

“I did not murder him.” These were the chilling words of Sonny the robot from I, Robot. In this film, Sonny was programmed without the “Three Laws of Robotics” developed by Asimov. These laws include a robot not bringing or allowing any harm to another human (the first law). It must obey all human beings' orders unless they conflict with the first law (the second law). It must protect its existence as long as it does not undermine the first or second law (the third law). This famous scene provokes the audience to reflect on the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) having free will. Did Sonny choose to kill their creator, Lanning, or were they programmed to? AI is the key to innovating the human experience. For others, it will blur the distinction between a Human Being and a Robot. Throughout this article, we’ll look at the various aspects of AI and Robots exercising free will.

As implied in the name, AI is the ability of any computer system or computer-controlled robot to perform a task generally associated with human intelligence. Tasks include “speech recognition, decision-making and translating between languages” and much more. In simple terms, AI is a multifaceted technology. The technologies included in AI are machine learning (ML), deep learning (DL), natural language processing (NPL), neural network (NN), Cognitive Computing (CC), Computer Vision (CV).

Free will, as a concept, is complex. For this article, we will define free will as the power of making decisions without any external factors and taking moral responsibility for this decision. Determinism is the thesis that all events and actions have a set outcome due to an external factor. Discussing the possibility of Artificial intelligence developing free will leads us to the Compatibilism thesis: having free will in a deterministic world. Philosophers such as Hobbes and Hume defined compatibilism as the ability to complete tasks while acknowledging that this ability was determined. This type of free will can only be applied to machines or robots because humans may have psychological factors that may render them unaware of their actions.

The primary difference between humans and Robots is algorithms. A Robot will amass a large amount of data. It will analyze patterns within that data. Then make decisions based on these patterns solely because of an algorithm produced by a creator, in this case, a Human Being. That algorithm or program is the deterministic aspect of the free will practiced by this Robot. Whereas a Human will choose between eating ice cream or asparagus based on their own choice, Robots will depend on a binary algorithm.

A machine that would have reached the level of free will exercised by Humans would be a Human level-Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). AGI is a hypothetical artificial intelligence that can efficiently perform any human task. This machine would have to be aware of the past, present, and future. As the designers of machines, Humans would have to have a complete understanding of the human brain to replicate its function for the AGI. We would know how to represent emotions like empathy and love algorithmically and how consciousness works.

Thus, the very ideation of Robots exercising free will is an illusion. No matter how developed a robot is, One can never equate its intelligence to the one of a Human Being. The fear of robots taking over the world, like AGI, could stem from the idea that Human Beings would lose their singularity. We would no longer be the single being capable of self-awareness, moral responsibility, and consciousness. Thus, we must ask ourselves, are we as Human Beings ready to develop this type of technology? Will the positive outcomes of this type of technology such as out of the way?

To learn more about Artificial Intelligence check our tech guide on AI


  1. I, Robot. (2012, July 9). [Video]. YouTube.

  2. “ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Definition of ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE by Oxford Dictionary on Also Meaning of ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries,

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