Aaronson’s Oracle: What is this curious algorithm?

Do we have free will or do our behaviors come by default? Are we as free as we think we are?

These are the questions we can ask ourselves when we talk about Aaronson’s Oracle, 1, seemingly simple algorithm who, while simply studying the keys we press, is able to know which we are going to press next.

It may sound simple and uninspiring, but given that a simple computer program is capable of knowing how we are going to behave based on how we react, it is no small task. Let’s see below.

    Who is Aaron’s oracle?

    Aaronson’s Oracle consists of a computer program with demonstrated ability to predict human decisions.

    The algorithm behind this program was developed by Scott Aaronson and, thanks to a task that the participant has to do, the program is able to know what will be the next key it is going to press. The person is in front of a computer with the program on and you have to press the D or F keys as many times as you want and in the order you want.

    While the person is pressing the keys, the oracle will give feedback, indicating whether the keystroke was the one they had in mind or not. In other words, the oracle indicates whether it was correct to predict that the person would press the D key or the F key.

    How it works?

    As we have seen, despite its mysterious name, Aaronson’s Oracle is nothing more than an algorithm behind a computer program. this is responsible for analyzing the 32 possible different sequences of five letters, made up of the D and F keys, That the person typed before. The algorithm memorizes them as the subject types them, and when the person retakes a sequence that begins in the same way as the one already done before, the algorithm predicts the next letter.

    To better understand this, let’s take the following case. We typed the following DDDFFF sequence at one point. The algorithm will have it remembered, and if it turns out that we are just typing the next DDDFF sequence, there’s a good chance the oracle will declare that the next key pressed will be another F. Of course, we could type D and make the oracle false, but it must be said that, advanced the sequences, the algorithm’s prediction percentage is greater than 60%.

    When we press the first keys, the oracle prediction percentage will not be high. This is due to the fact that we have just put information, that is to say that there are no previous sequences and therefore no background that can be linked to the information immediately put. In the first attempt, the oracle is impossible to predict whether we will put a D or an F. This decision can be completely random, and therefore the oracle will not have a certainty greater than 50%.

    However, once we have put in several keystrokes, the program will more accurately predict our behavior pattern. In addition to pressing the keys, more information and therefore more able to know if the next one will be a D or an F. In its web version you can see the success percentages. If these are less than 50%, it means the oracle is not right, and higher means it is on the right track.

    What is amazing about the program is that, although we can try to make things confusing the algorithm learns from this. He ends up using our decision against us, making us see that even though we had supposedly done it freely, it really isn’t.

      Are we that predictable?

      On the basis of Aaronson’s oracle, consisting of a simple computer algorithm, it becomes necessary to open the debate on whether the human being, who has always shown his free will, has a donation device similar or, on the contrary, it is nothing more than a simple illusion.

      The idea behind the concept of free will is that people behave completely regardless of our previous actions and stimuli present in our immediate and immediate surroundings. In other words, no matter what we have done or what we see, feel or feel, our behaviors can be consciously decided and detached from the past and the environment. In short, free will means that nothing is written, that everything is possible.

      The opposite of this concept is the idea of ​​determinism. What we have done before, what we have already experienced or what we are currently experiencing determines our actions. however aware and masters of our behavior, according to determinism, they are only the result of what has already happened. They are the next link in a chain of events which are each the cause.

      Looking at these definitions, one would think that yes, indeed, the idea that yesterday, last week, every day of the previous month, or even for years, we ate at two in the afternoon is a fact that will most likely be repeated. tomorrow, however, that doesn’t mean it will determine what happens tomorrow. In other words, while it is very likely that we will be eating together tomorrow, that does not mean that we cannot change, completely randomly, the time at which we will eat the next day.

      However, what comes in light of Aaronson’s oracle is that human beings, even though we try not to be predictable, we end up being predictable. Even trying to prevent a simple computer program from knowing which key to press, by the simple fact of pressing the other, we are already predictable, since the computer has overtaken us. We have already given you enough information to know how we are going to behave.

      Anterograde Amnesia and Repeated Behaviors: The Case of Mary Sue

      Some time ago, a woman became famous for, unfortunately, a symptom of her transient global amnesia which turned out to arouse the curiosity of the network. The lady, named Mary Sue, appeared in a video recorded by her daughter, in which she had a conversation.

      So far everything is normal, except for one important detail: the conversation repeated over and over and lasted about nine and a half hours. Mary Sue repeated herself like an old tape. Luckily for the woman, her amnesia resolved after a day.

      These types of repeated conversations are common in people with anterograde amnesia and, in fact, they have been widely documented, in addition to serving to shed light on the problem that awaits us here: are our decisions free? The problem that prevents us from verifying whether a decision we made in the past was the result of our supposed free will or, on the contrary, was determined, is that we cannot travel to the past and try to change it. .

      But luckily, cases like Mary Sue’s give us a better understanding of this. Mary Sue was, metaphorically speaking, in a time loop. He was talking, time passed a little, and suddenly it was as if he was stepping back in time. At first, Mary Sue started asking the same questions, saying the same answers. Suffering from anterograde amnesia, he could not generate new memories, so his brain was constantly reset and, having the same trigger events, he performed the same behavior.

      With the case of Mary Sue, we could come to the conclusion that we are not free, that the idea of ​​free will is nothing more than a mere illusion and that it is quite normal for algorithms like the Oracle of Aaronson, and any other that is in the process of being made, to be able to know how we’re going to behave.

      This same question has been addressed in a more scientific way in the remarkable work of Koenig-Robert and Pearson (2019). In their experiment, they were able to predict the decisions of experimental subjects up to 11 seconds in advance., But not before the behavior itself, but the fact that they were only aware of their own choice.

      However, and by way of Final reflection, it is important to say that, while interesting, no computer program or experiment can vigorously resolve a philosophical debate as old as the world itself. Although scientific research has helped us understand human beings, it is really difficult to understand how we come to behave in natural situations, and not in laboratory settings.

      Scott Aaronson and IT

      Scott Joel Aaronson is a computer scientist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His research area is mainly quantum computing. He worked at MIT and completed postdoctoral studies at the Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Waterloo, USA.

      He has won several awards for his research, receiving the Alan T. Waterman Award in 2012, in addition to the Best Scientific Paper on Computing in Russia in 2011, for his work The Equivalence of Sampling and Searching. Among his most notable works is the Complexity Zoo, a wiki in which are cataloged several calculations relating to the theory of computational complexity.

      He is the author of the Shtetl-Optimized blog and wrote the essay Who Can Name the Bigger Number? (“Who can say the greatest number?”), A work that has been widely disseminated in the computer world, and uses the concept of the beaver algorithm, described by Tibor Radó, to explain the limits of the computability using a more educational approach. Language.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Koenig-Robert, R., Pearson, J (2019). Decode the content and strength of images before voluntary participation. Sci Rep 9, 3504 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39813-y
      • Aaronson, Scott. (2014) “Who can call the greatest number?”. personal academic website. Electrical and Computer Engineering, MIT.

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