The problem of free will is one of the great unsolved puzzles in science, not to mention philosophy, theology, jurisprudence and so on. The basic question is whether we are able to make decisions for ourselves or whether the outcomes are predetermined and the notion of choice is merely an illusion.You'll have to read the rest of the article to see what this has to do with the i-phone, but what's not clear about the section excerpted above is whether there is a distinction to be made between the "impression" of having free will and the reality of free will. It's one thing to feel that our choices are free. We all experience that. The problem is whether the feeling of freedom is an illusion, and it doesn't seem to me that Lloyd's contribution makes it clear that he's talking about the ontological reality of libertarian free will and not just a deep but illusory sense that we're exercising a free choice when we make a decision.
There are two relatively new ideas that are particularly relevant [to the problem]. The first is quantum mechanics, the theory that describes the universe on the smallest scale. The second is the theory of computation which underpins much of modern technology and most of what passes for research in artificial intelligence. What bearing do these theories have on our understanding of free will?
Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Seth Lloyd, one of the world’s leading quantum mechanics and theorists, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Lloyd argues that quantum mechanics does not provide any mechanism that helps us understand free will. By contrast, he shows that the theory of computation is far more useful.
He argues that there are clear mechanisms in computation that make the outcome of a given calculation unpredictable, especially to the person or object making it. The key contribution of this latest work is a mathematical proof of this idea.
It is this inability to know the outcome of our own deliberations that gives rise to our impression that we possess free will, he says.
In other words, if all he's doing is explaining why we feel free, that's not especially helpful. What's needed is a compelling argument that demonstrates that we are, in fact, genuinely free to choose between alternatives. It's that argument that has eluded scientists and philosophers since the time of the ancient Greeks.