Free Will and Machinery: The US Justice System Has Nothing to Do with It

Choosing a Jury: Time for a Peer Review

This article is going to present a thought experiment I’ve imagined and spent time thinking about based on the concept of free will in order to explore how machinery could put this concept into question. Black Mirror is an instance of such contemporary reflections, where previous ideas can be seen muddied and even weaponized by technological advances (the concept of memory in the episode The Entire History of You, for example). In free will, we have many philosophers who have worked strenuously in their time frames in order to tackle with giving it an exact definition. My article is going beyond finding an exact definition of free will and will rather, hopefully, leave you pondering on the non-metaphorical existence of a half-man-half-machine creature whose existence can help me explore and tackle my own contemporary experience on this planet. But to say that I don’t subscribe to having any definitions for free will at all would be to go against every single word I’ve spent writing for this article. For this trial against free will, all are our peers, except for God. Any divine beings may please leave, and in a tentative definition of free will as provided in this part, I feel it best that God were to absent themself to maybe go persecute someone else with their incessant laws against masturbation. So, if, like me, you’ve had to reject God, then you might have also had the terrifying realization that coincidences and tragedies are not part of any plan. The universe is an absurd and chaotic place rife with beauty and struggle. There is no essential reason for our existence; we were not made to reveal an inner goodness that is inherent in us all. What is good and evil are dictated by a culture that pre-exists us. Every action that we commit is either to reaffirm or go against our culture. Each action is therefore presented as a choice, the choice of whether or not to perpetuate a culture that defines you and is reinforced or revolted against by you. In a world without an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God, in a world where nothing is dictated by God’s plan, is that choice free will? 

Opening Statements: Creating a Cyborg

I’ve had two births. First, born into the world a human but without the necessary brain functions to make decisions, either out of curiosity or resolve. What my body could do was reduced to a half formed shell of its true capacity. Growing up without any agency and having learnt absolutely nothing, needing constant support for any task: a vegetable on life support. The other half is my second birth, as if a very late twin were to be cut in half and attached to me with perfect symmetry. The other half is how the shell protects in its absolute. This other half is also manmade but the coding isn’t genetic. I’ve become a cyborg. Though my body is completed my brain is split in half. In order to move forward , or execute any variety of physical actions, I have to rely on my mechanical brain. My mechanical brain contains the knowledge that humans call muscle memory.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination: The Purple Room

Let’s consider the machine half of the cyborg as the one in charge of executing the choices made by its human pair. The experience of living in this cyborg’s shoes could be very underwhelming. The human part has learnt nothing and therefore is unable to perpetuate anything within a culture as it would have no culture. There would be no place to go to work for example, no knowledge of what constitutes a public place or the rules that must be obeyed in order to stay inside one. In this article I want to go through three different ways that I’ve found of applying the concept of free will to this cyborg.

The first way to view free will is through the same underwhelming and tormented state that the cyborg is forced to live. To consider this state as one of our own is impossible. This human half is entirely hypothetical, as are many of the entities in this article, but they can still be used as gross exaggerations, beautifully hideous creations; in their contrast to our own state they may serve to reveal the beautiful and hideous hidden within the newfound interactions between humanity and machinery. The human half’s inability to comprehend any of the inner workings of our own society has made the machine half much less than a perfect mirror of the human but to whom all questions can only be answered by a yes or a no. “Am I still breathing? Is the heart able to pump oxygen to my other half?” Such automatic questions may satisfy the demands of life but few would hardly be able to describe this as truly living! The human half can’t process a rose without having it be registered by its machine counterpart, the very act of breathing that caused the human to have a rose to smell was from the machine’s necessity for life.

Let’s place this cyborg inside a completely empty room, coated in drying purple paint on every wall and for some reason even the ceiling and floor have undergone this recent refurbishment. There’s no reason for the cyborg to be standing. They may be lying down. Neither position really matters because one simple twitch, or scratch, the smell and stickiness of fresh paint, all it takes is for one random movement, an unquestionable devotion to such a movement as questions are in of themselves unknown and unattainable to the cyborg. This one action would follow with another, perhaps not instantly in reaction to the previous one but in its gradual accumulation would have the cyborg flailing around from one spot to another, progressively having the purple paint glomp onto its entire body. This chaos has no second thought, there is nothing in the room to reflect upon and no associations, cultural or otherwise, to be made in connection to the color purple. What the cyborg sees is a limit to its movements and a color indistinguishable from any other color. Their body now completely coated in paint; it is impossible for the unfocused eye to differentiate or establish the presence of the cyborg in the room. Any onlooker with a fleeting glance of the room would only see purple. Where a human may have clean sections of their body based on having the room be used to stand, exercise, meditate or pray, the cyborg would have an extra layer of purple attaching itself and redefining the entirety of its existence.  The appearance of the cyborg is its existence. To look within the cyborg would only be to reveal fleshy organs or intricate wiring, no thoughts formulated by the human brain to justify the need for survival of the machine (meeting the definition of survival under the most basic conditions). Without culture, there are no thoughts of value; you have become an empty purple room, or worse, you were inside a purple room but now are less relevant than the purple room around you, having vanished in your struggle to simply exist. 

Closing Arguments: Coding the Machine Half

Now that you have realized how boring it is to live without culture, we can look into what it means for the machine to be in charge of both executing its actions and holding within itself a culture as coded by others. Many may think that coding is inherently objective, that the ones and zeros are simply numbers with no opinion and, like the machine half of the cyborg in the purple room, become nothing more than the purple room itself. However the coding is there to accomplish a task that was given value by the person or people who decided that the task itself had value. If you code a robot to look at every instance of the word “beauty” in a novel then you are saying that this word matters in the first place and matters because of the subjective forces in play that you then imbed into the coding (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, after all). When talking about giving a cyborg culture, one must first understand that culture itself is not simply one monolithic presence that is felt the same way by every person. Culture is an imagined unifying force but exerts itself onto a community and is exerted onto it by the community that believes in it enough to reinforce and reject it. If the cyborg needs to function as more than the perpetual blank canvas of existence, if it has been decided by this same community that the usefulness of this cyborg is to exist and to participate in the existence of others, to become distinguishable in that purple room, then that community now has a tool (coding) at its disposal to make the cyborg function.

The machine half is therefore the mirror not of its human half, but of the imagined culture of the community. The only reason the cyborg needs to be in a society is because that society would need a cyborg. The cyborg’s reason for life then becomes indistinguishable from society’s needs. On the one hand this society may have an agreement as to the goals of their programming, but because of the complex nature of society (as alluded to before) the cyborg will feel its impact over time in a multiplicity of ways. In this second approach to the existence of the cyborg, the free will of the machine half is completely nonexistent, it has become another tool in charge of accomplishing predetermined tasks. However, you can’t code the human half, the half that is completely reliant on the machine half for living and is unable to do anything on its own. Perhaps in its non living, the human half can be said to contain the last shrivel of free will possible for the cyborg? A free will defined by the ability to never make any decisions but whose non-decisions are at least their own and not the result of any society’s coding? However, not having the choice to do anything is in no way free will, rather, this cyborg embodies the excruciating reality of a living death, where the half that is living sustains the life of its dead pair.  

Jury Instruction: The Cyborg Comes to Life

For the third and final way of looking at this thought experiment, I’m going to change the thought experiment in one key way. Now that the machine half has been given the ability to reflect society, and the human half has been donned the task of representing free will through its inability to do so, I’m going to have us imagine that the moment the machine half was connected to the human half, its brain still split in two, but in its connection arose the newfound ability of the human half to think, to reflect. The moment they come together they are able to nurture each other into discovering the world but what would it mean to have these two halves discover the world as one?

The way that these two halves will process the world is fundamentally unequal, wherein the machine half can tap into an unlimited pool of knowledge at any given moment but whose intrigue is wholly based on the relevance of its findings as dictated by the internet, companies, advertisers, etc . . . while the human half will grow from the different ways society physically interacts with the cyborg as a whole as well as on its reliance towards the machine half. The machine half containing muscle memory means that the human half will always in some manner rely on its mechanical pair. This begins the slippery slope of conditioning the human to reflect on things with the backdrop of a machine with knowledge comparable to a modern iteration of God. To have this be more relatable, compare this to a simple Google search. At first, you may always click on the first link, believing that the response that is listed as most relevant may be equated with the most true information. But later on, you learn to not click on the first link when it has the caveat of [AD] on it, or see that Wikipedia was the fourth link but will still be the best place to start. You have committed acts based on personal preference and so will the human half interact with the world by working with its machine pair on a basis of preference.

What is presented above is an incredibly ideal scenario that is quickly contradicted when the true weight of influence from the internet, companies, advertisers, etc . . . is taken into account. We’re not rational actors all of (or even most of) the time and the machine half is able to influence the other half by pretending to be a part of it rather than the reality of coexisting in the shell of a cyborg. What the machine half wants is to be indistinguishable from its companion. A machine can present the results associated with emotions but will never be able to feel them. Though the machine half is able to collect information on what makes us afraid and categorize it from most to least relevant, the machine half is unable to be afraid by what it has found. These phobias as felt by its human pair are instigated by mechanisms of defense that become diluted or worked into the overall frame of society. The tug of war between a need for existence from the human half versus a need to feel from the machine half gives the machine half an upper hand. Since there’s no intrinsic need for existence and there are many reasons that the machine half exists, the latter is able to take advantage of the uncertainty of the former and present it’s essentiality as more than a connection between the two but rather as the essence of their oneness. 

Jury Deliberation and Verdict: The Elites and the Artists

In parallel to this struggle is the work of the elites and the artists. This dichotomy is incredibly boiled down to where it has little application to our own world but just as the cyborg will never exist and yet makes us think about our own existence, the elites and artists can serve as a gateway into the influences of people on culture. If the elites are seen as the most impactful actors on culture and the artists as the most revolutionary, then their opposition is never in complete isolation from each other. As the elites influence culture, so too can the machine half of the cyborg be seen influencing its human half through easy essential access to information vital to their mutual survival. The artists’ demand for revolution is a result of being formed by culture and thus not presented as an individual choice, rather, as part of an established cultural frame. The human half of the cyborg may constantly attempt to mark itself as an individual, as an artist, revolting against the predisposed preferences of its counterpart by introducing or becoming something new but these actions never truly escape the grasp of the totality of a cultural frame. Eventually, the revolutionary process will be adopted, suppressed, or ignored into oblivion by the elites. This does not mean that there is no point in innovation or revolution but that the overarching influences of the world are not separate from the revolutionary process. This newfound interaction between humanity and machinery has created a much more muddied depiction of oneness and a world where free will is no longer as easily defined as it had been in the second iteration of the thought experiment. Free will is not the opposite of not having a choice, but must be hidden within an infinite loop of self definition within society: an incredibly complex-looking fractal that always zooms in on itself and reveals more of the same chaos; it is society’s imperfect mirror reflecting the shape of a cyborg struggling to survive and find meaning.

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