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.


If Dasein is not Consciousness then Dasein is an Inference.

The problem I see with Heidegger’s concept of Dasein is that it is an inference. He takes the fact that every experience we have had is an experience of something; that is he takes the intentionality (or is it intensionality?) of consciousness and infers that that which is conscious is dasein.

Take the concept of disclosedness for example. He says that we are conscious of what dasein discloses.

But it could equally be said that consciousness is a kind of vessel, a screen that has the property of being able to receive impressions.

Both of these are inferences from conscious experience that cohere with the fact of conscious experience. That is they are two stories about the cause of conscious experience that explain conscious experience equally well.

Heidegger was trying to overcome or by-pass some of the problems in a Cartesian world-view; but his way of doing it isn’t the only way.

From my own experience I have come to the conclusion that we are passive observers of our lives; or rather consciousness is utterly passive.

We are consciously aware of choices being made and feelings being felt; but we are not aware of the causes of these choices and feelings. They pop up spontaneously, seemingly out of nowhere. All we can do is make inferences concerning their cause.

I realized this when I began asking myself two questions:

“How do I distinguish between that which I have control over and that which I don’t?”

“How do I distinguish between internal phenomena and external phenomena?”

With the first question I began with the supposition “I have control over that which does what I choose it to do.”; but then I asked myself “Where does my choice come from?” and “Why did I choose what I chose and not something else?”

I saw when I watched myself in the act of making choices that the choice sprung from a black-box (that is to say it came from a place my awareness didn’t extend to).

First there spontaneously popped up an urge to do something; often I immediately act upon the urge without any thought.

Even when I deliberate about whether I should choose to enact the urge I saw that I was imagining the ramifications of doing or not doing the thing. I would then take each scenario and place it before the altar of my preference and pick the one I preferred.

Every step in this process just popped up into my awareness out of the black box.

There’s a paradox involved here that succinctly shows what I am trying to convey: “You don’t choose to choose what you choose before you choose it.”

This also works for thought: “You don’t think a thought before you think it”

The second question (“How do I distinguish between internal phenomena and external phenomena?”) led to similar conclusions.

I began with the supposition that all external phenomena appears to be spontaneous. We can make guesses about what will happen next but we can’t be certain.

So that being the case internal phenomena should not be spontaneous… right?

But it is spontaneous!

This is sometimes covered over by the stream of conscious babble; the voice we talk to ourselves with and the images we imagine.

But I spent years watching my thoughts; trying to find their moment of conception and no matter how hard or long I looked all I was ever aware of was words and images popping up spontaneously.

So the Cartesian problem of how can a thinking thing – and I don’t think he just meant thought by cogito but also awareness – cause an extended thing to move is no problem because:

      1. Thoughts are objects out there

      2. Our awareness has no effect on what is out there

      3. Our awareness is just receptivity

Of course point 3 is the inference that distinguishes what I’m saying from what Heidegger says. Point 1 and 2 aren’t; just look for yourself.

It could be that consciousness is an activity of dasein, the brain, some kind of spiritual thing or whatever. The fact is that we are not transparent to ourselves and so have to make inferences concerning our being; concerning that which is conscious.

Which is cool because stories are fun to read and write!