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.

1 comment:

  1. I've worked in the computer industry for 37 years and have never seen the faintest glimmer of emotion in anything programmed.

    But I would suggest we forget robots for the moment and consider the phenomenon of the well-trained checkout operator at the supermarket.

    I know the operator is human, but she or he is likely to follow the equivalent of a computer program, for this produces more reliable results from the management's point of view. As a customer I'm aware that the more professional she is the less I will know of her actual feelings. She may hate her job, and dislike all or particular customers. She may be in some kind of grief or distress, and so on. But she will express solicitousness for my needs as a customer, because this is the trick she has been taught. My instinct is to respect her inwardness as she respects mine, by sticking to my customer script and letting her stick to her operator script. This way she can stay in whatever dream helps her through the day. Occasionally it will be different and I'll have a brief conversation or other sharing. One might also consider the performances of prostitutes and their clients, where the professional relationship would preclude emotion being expressed. But I have no experience of it.

    Anything that a machine can do is by definition non-human. It's a performance, if you like. Humans can do that performance too, but that's not what makes them human.