On Machine Creativity, Free Will, and the Projective Simulation for Artificial Intelligence


On Machine Creativity and the Physical Origins of Freedom

Author: Dr. Hans J. Briegel
Publication Date:  July 2012


We discuss the possibility of freedom of action in embodied systems that are, with no exception and at all scales of their body, subject to physical law. We relate the discussion to a model of an artificial agent that exhibits a primitive notion of creativity and freedom in dealing with its environment, which is part of a recently introduced scheme of information processing called projective simulation. This provides an explicit proposal on how we can reconcile our understanding of universal physical law with the idea that higher biological entities can acquire a notion of freedom that allows them to increasingly detach themselves from a strict causal embedding into the surrounding world.


Are we free in our decisions and actions? Or is free will an illusion and is what we think and how we act entirely determined by the laws of Nature? Recent developments in brain research have revived and stirred-up a centuries-old discussion, claiming that free will is essentially an illusion. The discussion is not only of academic nature, but it has for example been suggested that the experimental findings of the neurosciences, together with their theoretical interpretations, should be reflected in future jurisdiction. These developments have lead to a controversial debate between brain researchers, philosophers, law makers, behavior scientists, and others.

Considering what seems to be at stake, these reactions are not surprising. At the same time, they also emphasize the deep impact of the concepts and findings of modern science, in particular physics, neurobiology, and computer science, on the idea of human existence and responsibility.

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About The Author

Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität Innsbruck, Technikerstraße 25, A-6020 Innsbruck, Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Innsbruck, Austria

Hans Briegel’s research is focused on fundamental aspects of quantum theory, its applications in computer science, and in other branches of science. One of his main current interests is to understand the ultimate power of machines to compute and to simulate Nature. Models for quantum information processing, both in physical and in biological systems, are thereby being explored. The key research themes of the group “Quantum information and computation” are to investigate fundamental notions of quantum mechanics, such as measurement, entanglement, and de‐coherence, their experimental signatures and their implications for our understanding of complex many-body systems.


Projective Simulation for Artificial Intelligence

Author: Dr. Hans J. Briegel and Gemma De las Cuevas
Publication Date: May 2012


We propose a model of a learning agent whose interaction with the environment is governed by a simulation-based projection, which allows the agent to project itself into future situations before it takes real action. Projective simulation is based on a random walk through a network of clips, which are elementary patches of episodic memory. The network of clips changes dynamically, both due to new perceptual input and due to certain compositional principles of the simulation process. During simulation, the clips are screened for specific features which trigger factual action of the agent. The scheme is different from other, computational, notions of simulation, and it provides a new element in an embodied cognitive science approach to intelligent action and learning. Our model provides a natural route for generalization to quantum-mechanical operation and connects the fields of reinforcement learning and quantum computation.


Computers of various sorts play a role in many processes of modern society. A prominent example is the
personal computer which has a specific user interface, waiting for human input and delivering output in a prescribed format. Computers also feature in automated processes, for example in the production lines of a modern factory. Here the input/output interface is usually with other machinery, such as a robot environment in a car factory.

An increasingly important role is played by so-called intelligent agents that operate autonomously in more complex and changing environments. Examples of such environments are traffic, remote space, but also the internet. The design of intelligent agents, specifically for tasks such as learning, has become a unifying agenda of various branches of artificial intelligence. Intelligence is hereby defined as the capability of the agent to perceive and act on its environment in a way that maximizes its chances of success. In recent years, the field of embodied cognitive sciences has provided a new conceptual and empirical framework for the study of intelligence, both in biological and in artificial entities.

A particular manifestation of intelligence is creativity and it is therefore natural to ask: To what extent can agents or robots show creative behavior? Creativity is hereby understood as a distinguished capability of dealing with unprecedented situations and of relating a given situation with other conceivable situations. A similar question may arise in behavioral studies with animals, and it is related, on a more fundamental level, to the problem of free will.

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