By now you’ve probably seen a Predictor; millions of them have been sold by the time you’re reading this. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s a small device, like a remote for opening your car door. Its only features are a button and a big green LED. The light flashes if you press the button. Specifically, the light flashes one second before you press the button.There's a goofy explanation, every Predictor is a micro time machine that reverses causality or something. The punchline is that this proves once and for all that free will is an illusion. The meta-punchline is that you don't need time travel, just neuroscience. We have similar results already, Benjamin Libet's landmark experiments established that there's a detectable readiness potential before an action.
Most people say that when they first try it, it feels like they’re playing a strange game, one where the goal is to press the button after seeing the flash, and it’s easy to play. But when you try to break the rules, you find that you can’t. If you try to press the button without having seen a flash, the flash immediately appears, and no matter how fast you move, you never push the button until a second has elapsed. If you wait for the flash, intending to keep from pressing the button afterwards, the flash never appears. No matter what you do, the light always precedes the button press. There’s no way to fool a Predictor.
We'll probably have something similar to Predictors in the near future. It's worth meditating on, take Chiang Predictors out of the mental category of "science fiction/never gonna happen," and imagine they're real, because they will be soon. Try and get ahead of the curve, think about the implications. Our conscious selves are the ghosts in the machine, like cloistered bosses who find out after things are already decided.