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Deciding to Deliberate

by: Tomasz Neugebauer

first posted 1998.
updated: August, 2001

page: 4 of 5

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Like it or not, by raising your hand you are changing reality permanently. Even if decisions were divided into significant and insignificant ones, because of our uncertainty of how things would have turned out, had we acted differently, it is impossible to tell a significant decision from an insignificant one.

The decisions that we make without deliberation are significant. An example of such a significant decision is the implicit decision about whether or not to deliberate. A Turing machine can only model a strict deliberation leading to a decision, it cannot model the decision to deliberate.



This picture is familiar to computer scientists in the field of Artificial Intelligence. In fact, this sort of tree of possiblities can be searched with the Min-Max in combination with Alpha-Beta cut-offs or Iteratively Deepening Depth First Search algorithms which are used by programmers of AI to search for a good chess move for example. AI has the power to send the computer on a search for solutions that human beings cannot achieve by themselves AI algorithms perform an analysis of a tree of possiblities like that of fig.6. The computer needs a scoring function which it uses to evaluate each situation, and using this scoring function it searches deeper and deeper into the tree to find a move that will lead to the most favourable position. It is important to note that this tree becomes enormous just a few moves down, and this is why no computer has yet been able to solve the game of chess. In the course of the search, it uses Alpha-Beta cutoffs, for example, to eliminate entire branches of possiblity and does not search them. We can also program the computer to learn from previous games and thus eliminate moves that have led to unfavourable consequences in the past. This is the kind of mechanical thinking that it is programmed to perform.

Consider another mechanical invention, the automobile. Human beings can only travel so fast given their body, and this is why they invented the automobile to do travelling with. The car drives, it is designed and programmed to travel along and according to the driver's wishes. The point is that the car was designed to do something that human beings also do, albeit very differently, and that is to travel through space. The car does this successfully, and we generally have no problem accepting this.

Human beings also have brains that they use for higher level thinking. What I mean by higher level is meant in opposition to the kinds of lower level thinking that happens in our brain which control our motor functions and synchronizes all those body parts that are required to move in some way. It is this sort of higher level thinking that we associate with consciousness, free will, and soul. It is also this sort of thinking that we associate with the ability to play chess well, and make decisions about which move to make. We accepted so easily our ability to create machines which accomplish what is needed to travel through space, we seem to struggle in accepting that we also create machines which perform the higher level thinking, such as is involved in playing a good game of chess, or being a good doctor. Meanwhile, we continue to create computer programs and machines that successfully accomplish the equivalent of just those higher level thought processes.

A computer plays chess in a mechanical way, listing possible moves at each step, and considering each possible countermove, and so on. Although this is not necessarily how an expert human player plays, it does capture at least one strategy that a human player can use. It takes this strategy a lot further than a human ever could. Human beings create the machines, and so it is disturbing that our creations could surpass the creators in at least some trivial way. This does happen. A car can accelerate faster than any human being. The programmers of Deep Blue created a program that destroys them in a game of chess. You need not be a good chess player to create a killer chess playing program. The car will not accelerate, nor will Deep Blue play chess well unless we, its creators supply it with that goal or objective. When and if we do give machines that objective, it is senseless to deny that they accomplish it when they do. Just as the car travels through space, the chess playing program thinks about what move to make before it makes it.

This thinking does not change the machine into a human being. It is obvious a human being, while thinking about what move to make during a game of chess, remains a human being during that time, just as it is obvious that a computer remains a computer while thinking about what move to make. These two creatures are completely different. A human being has a physiology, he might be hungry or have an itch in his left ear while making his decisions about what move to make, while the computer simply does not experience anything remotely similar to that. A human being can make the decision to play or not without deliberation and its reasons, whereas a computer has no choice but to deliberate before every move.

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