Next Article in Journal
Lyapunov Spectra of Coulombic and Gravitational Periodic Systems
Next Article in Special Issue
Multiscale Information Theory and the Marginal Utility of Information
Previous Article in Journal
Entropy in Investigation of Vasovagal Syndrome in Passive Head Up Tilt Test
Previous Article in Special Issue
Specific and Complete Local Integration of Patterns in Bayesian Networks
Article Menu
Issue 5 (May) cover image

Export Article

Open AccessArticle
Entropy 2017, 19(5), 237;

Can a Robot Have Free Will?

School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast BT97BL, UK
Academic Editor: Mikhail Prokopenko
Received: 27 February 2017 / Revised: 28 April 2017 / Accepted: 15 May 2017 / Published: 20 May 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Complexity, Criticality and Computation (C³))
Full-Text   |   PDF [552 KB, uploaded 24 May 2017]   |  


Using insights from cybernetics and an information-based understanding of biological systems, a precise, scientifically inspired, definition of free-will is offered and the essential requirements for an agent to possess it in principle are set out. These are: (a) there must be a self to self-determine; (b) there must be a non-zero probability of more than one option being enacted; (c) there must be an internal means of choosing among options (which is not merely random, since randomness is not a choice). For (a) to be fulfilled, the agent of self-determination must be organisationally closed (a “Kantian whole”). For (c) to be fulfilled: (d) options must be generated from an internal model of the self which can calculate future states contingent on possible responses; (e) choosing among these options requires their evaluation using an internally generated goal defined on an objective function representing the overall “master function” of the agent and (f) for “deep free-will”, at least two nested levels of choice and goal (d–e) must be enacted by the agent. The agent must also be able to enact its choice in physical reality. The only systems known to meet all these criteria are living organisms, not just humans, but a wide range of organisms. The main impediment to free-will in present-day artificial robots, is their lack of being a Kantian whole. Consciousness does not seem to be a requirement and the minimum complexity for a free-will system may be quite low and include relatively simple life-forms that are at least able to learn. View Full-Text
Keywords: self-organization; downward causation; autocatalytic set; goal-oriented behaviour; autopoiesis; biological computing self-organization; downward causation; autocatalytic set; goal-oriented behaviour; autopoiesis; biological computing

Figure 1

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Share & Cite This Article

MDPI and ACS Style

Farnsworth, K.D. Can a Robot Have Free Will? Entropy 2017, 19, 237.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats

Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Related Articles

Article Metrics

Article Access Statistics



[Return to top]
Entropy EISSN 1099-4300 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert
Back to Top