Friday 27 August 2010

Hegel's birthday

On Hegel’s birthday, Rossini’s comment on Wagner, about wonderful moments but awful quarter hours, came to mind. It struck me as much more apt to Hegel, through whose verbiage we must dig in search of nuggets, than to the glorious Wagner. So I looked up the context. The aptness to Hegel was amply confirmed. Here is what Rossini is reported to have said.

Niemand ist entfernter davon, die Originalität des Schöpfers des Lohengrin anzuzweifeln, als ich: nur daß es uns der Componist mitunter recht schwer macht, das Schöne, was wir ihm verdanken, in dem Chaos von Tönen, das seine Opern enthalten, aufzufinden. Sie werden es selbst schon erfahren haben: Mr. Wagner a de beaux moments, mais de mauvais quart d’heures!

Source: pages 543-544 of Dr. Emil Naumann, Italienische Tondichter von Palestrina bis auf die Gegenwart. Eine Reihe von Vorträgen, gehalten in den Jahren 1874 und 1875. Berlin, Verlag von Robert Oppenheim, 1876.

Monday 9 August 2010

Robots with emotions

Here is a nice story to ponder, about robots that at least appear to express human emotions:

It prompts some philosophical questions, including the following:

If something appears to have emotions, does it have them?

What is the significance of the fact that the robot uses human forms of display, while not being a human?

Is there an underlying universal language of emotions (like a language of thought) which then gets translated into the local language of communication, or is the language of communication the only language, so that emotions expressed in different local languages of communication would be incommensurable?

Would such a robot be a moral client, either straight out of the box or after you had lived with it for a while? Would it be alright to turn it off when you went away on holiday, and then never turn it back on again?

I do not have answers, and do not expect ever to have more than provisional answers, but it is good when a philosophers' thought experiment turns out to have a counterpart in a real-world experiment.