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Futurama - Free Will Hunting

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

In season 9, episode 9, Free Will Hunting of the TV series Futurama, Bender has an existential crisis after finding out that robots do not have free will. The episode starts out with Bender and Fry waking up. Bender ponders whether or not he should wear his "nerd glasses." Fry responds that it doesn't really matter. Bender counters by stating, "Every decision we make opens up a universe of possibilities. I put it to you, as sentient beings each choice we make is precious." Consequently Bender leaves the house, decides to join college, joins a gang, borrows $10,000 at a 10,000% interest rate, commits a few crimes, and subsequently quit college all in one day. He ends up in court where his lawyer argues that robots have no free will. The judge agrees, and Bender is acquitted. This sets Bender on a journey to find out the point of existence.

On his journey he runs into some robot elders to whom he poses the question, "As robots you have no free will, why pretend anything matters?" The elders respond, "Our decisions do matter, the fact that they are predetermined makes them no less important." Later, Bender meets some monks and asks "What's the point of living if I don't have free will?" The monks reply that they simply came to peace with it, but hint to a possible chip that will give him free will. So he sets out to find it, and he does. The only problem is that due to the quantum nature of the chip, there is no way to tell if it is on or off.

Benders existential crisis and search for purpose is interesting in that it relates directly to the question of free will. This is something that was blogged about in the endev42 review of the book The Brain and the Meaning of Life. As noted in that blog, the question of free will may not have a binary yes or no answer. That is, we may have limited, but not total free will. Check out the other blog post if you are interested in reading more about this (you can just skip to the part about free will if you don't care about the rest).

With that said, what do you think? Do we have free will? Does having free will really solve anything, or does it just lead to more questions?

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