Could robots ever have emotions?

Would the emotions expressed by a robot ever be “real”?

To get at this question we first have to take a look inside ourselves to see what happens when we experience and express emotion. Look under the hood so to speak and see what’s going on.

Now to do this I don’t think we need to have some special form of access say to the brain. We don’t need any other form of knowledge or experience than what is universally available to everyone by virtue of the fact that as humans we all have emotions.

So here’s my description of what happens when I experience emotions.

There is a circumstance or event that happens. When I become aware of this event and if I care about the constituents of the event I experience gladness, regret, excitement etc.

Now how do I know I am experiencing an emotion? What is it that informs me of this?

Very often it is a change in my heart rate, a feeling in my belly or just a general change in the tone of my experience.

A spring to my step or a falling feeling in the stomach.

Why I feel what I feel or rather why I interpret the sensation as either a positive or negative emotion isn’t as immediately available as the immediate experience of the emotion so I am compelled to generate a theory.

The theory that makes most sense to me is that our preference is the determining factor behind how I interpret my emotion.

If I want the outcome of the event it is good; if I don’t want the outcome of the event it is bad.

Why do i prefer what I prefer? I don’t know is the simple answer.

The best narrative to use to understand preferences is that of programming.

The only difference between my preferences and a computers programming is that I was programmed by nature and the computer was programmed by man.

Now to the robot.

Some people will say “a robot cannot have real emotions because it is just programmed to do what it does.”

That is to say that when event x happens the robot’s programming tells it to express so and so emotion.

How would the robot be told this?

There may be a certain transistor that turns on or a group of transistors that turn on in a specific pattern.

I don’t really know enough about computers to know how but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that some form of a signal will tell the robot how to act.

Well what is the difference between the physiological changes that occur to my body that tell me I am angry and the signal that tells the robot how to act?

I mean anger is the physiological changes accompanied by my interpretation of them.

The robot has both of these characteristics. There is a signal and programming that tells the robot how to interpret the signal. The signal acts as a result of external stimuli.

Don’t you see that this narrative is a perfectly adequate narrative for what happens to us when we experience emotions?

You may say that the robot isn’t conscious. I won’t go into that claim here but say it isn’t.

So what?

Consciousness is present in all of our experiences. And emotion is one of those.

You are not always angry. You are not always conscious.

Does consciousness need to be present for emotion? I think not.

Consciousness is a kind of emptiness. A space for stuff to happen in and for and to. As such the stuff happening to consciousness would still be happening if consciousness were not aware of it.

Your breath is a perfect example of this.

Really this issue is the result of a false dichotomy we have drawn between nature and man. Real and artificial.

Man is a continuation of nature. He is nature.

If the products of human activity are not natural than neither are termite mounds.

It seems reasonable to assume that anything man produces will share some very basic and fundamental features with man.

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The square circle AKA free-will

I believe that our decisions are manifestations of our character.

 

The beauty of this view is that it makes irrelevant the nature of this “Character”. It could be a spiritual – by which I mean non-physical – thing; a physical thing – say the organisation and activity of the brain; it could be a purely conditioned thing. It doesn’t matter.

 

Whatever it is.

 

This is because to establish blame there must be a person, self or character who is blamed.

 

The choice itself is a verb, an activity and thus it’s meaningless to claim it is responsible. It is an action done by a subject and as such it is the subject who is the proper object of judgment if there is any proper object of judgment.

I think that no matter what system you adhere to – spiritual, theistic, atheistic – or any conceivable system free-will is inconsistent – if there is a self there cannot be free-will and if there isn’t a self there cannot be free-will.