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Academic launches £100,000 competition to create self-aware robot

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Paul Kwatz, well-known theorist and author of Conscious Robots, has launched a competition which offers his life savings of £100,000 in return for the creation of a computer programme which possesses self-awareness and free will.

The competition, which is open to any student, university or general organisation, including Google, requires entrants to create a programme which can develop its own sense of morality, thus independently choosing how to act based on how 'right' or 'wrong' it perceives an action to be.

Although the idea of conscious robots is nothing new, with a 'thinking' computer beating the world chess grandmaster at his own game as early as 1997, the idea that they could be in possession of genuine free will has yet to be proven.

Entries will be judged by Professor Steve Jones, a leading expert on genetics who holds the position of Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London as well as being a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Far from being a stranger to the concept of free will, Professor Jones has dealt extensively with the question of its existence in his work In the Blood. As such the academic has noted that potential winners will have to present a computer programme which is capable of "independent value judgments" in order to impress him.

However, somewhat unusually, the creator of this competition does not anticipate anyone actually achieving this. Indeed, Kwatz has branded the challenge as "impossible" as the concept of free will itself does not exist, not even in humans, as although "our actions and choices are entirely determined by whether our conscious minds deem them as good or bad ... these conscious choices are in turn entirely controlled by the non-conscious part of our brain".

Essentially, although we think we have free will as humans, we actually "have no control over our non-conscious mind". This which Kwatz aims to highlight through running this competition, suggesting that "humans are no more in control of our ultimate aims than a chess computer".

For those who share Kwatz's belief that such a feat is impossible there is a secondary, perhaps less inviting, prize of £250 for the most convincing explanation of why a robot with free will can never be created.

However, despite his stance, Kwatz is undoubtedly interested in what will be produced by entrants and "happy to be proven wrong" even though "science says that it can't be done".

If you think you have what it takes, or want more information, visit Conscious Robots website here.

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