In our social conversations, we habitually interchange the term ’emotions’ with ‘feelings’ and sometimes it is a bit challenging to avoid this trap of colloquial mix-up.
But what makes emotions distinct from feelings?
Anthony Damasio, a Professor of Neuroscience at USC, proposed in his book, The Feeling of What Happens, a theory about emotional processing that is set on a continuum of three stages: a stage of emotions, a stage of feeling, and a stage of a conscious awareness of feeling. Emotions are the collective biological responses that the body has towards an external or environmental stimulus. Emotional responses are automatic, have a regulatory role in the body’s homeostasis, and are necessary for an organism’s survival.
Primary emotions, which are invariant across human cultures and animal species, consist of happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, and anger. Secondary emotions are the ‘social’ emotions that are developed based on the individual’s cultural context and this includes pride, jealousy, and guilt. Nevertheless, emotional responses are an evolutionary trait that is essential for survival, which is why most carbon-based organisms retain these features.
Let us suppose that you were walking in Ann Arbor one day and you happened to stumble upon a rabid squirrel. The sinking feeling in your stomach and the trembling of your muscles that result from this encounter is an emotional response, namely fear. What happens next is the experience of the fear-induced fight or flight response. Epinephrine is released into your blood stream, your heart begins to beat faster to pump more blood, your muscles tighten up, and you begin to consume more oxygen. All of these bodily and neurological effects were triggered by your encounter with a rabid animal in order to ensure that you have sufficient energy and strength to either fight the squirrel or run away from it. These physiological responses are caused by the synchronized autonomic cooperation between your body and your brain. This is an example of how an emotional response is used for an organism’s survival.
Feelings, on the other hand, are the internal representations of the effects caused by an emotional response. Feelings are wholly a subjective matter that reflect the internal effects that occurred as a result of an emotional response. In the case of the squirrel encounter, the feelings that arose from such an encounter could have been ‘trauma,’ for example. So the distinction between emotions and feelings is that emotions are physical and bodily responses, while feelings are the internal responses that result from emotions. The third stage, a conscious awareness of feelings, highlights the crucial detail that emotions and feelings are not dependent on a person’s conscious awareness.
Now, how does this relate to Artificial Intelligence or Machine Life? Most researchers, according to my understanding, are interested in creating artificial life with human-like features. Cynthia Breazeal, a Professor at MIT, has a robotics lab that focuses on creating humanoid robots capable of forming social interactions with humans. Her most famous creation is Kismet. Kismet is the world’s first social robot that is capable of recognizing and simulating emotions (more information here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KRZX5KL4fA). Breazeal’s motivations for creating humanoid robots stems from her fascination with personal robots, citing C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars as the source for her personal interest in robotics. However, to create artificial life that demonstrates intelligent behavior compatible to ours, it may be able to detect and experience emotions.
One way of accessing a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligence stems from the Turing Test. Alan Turing’s development of the Turing Test is widely used today to evaluate a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior, or behavior indistinguishable from that of a normal human being’s. The Turing Test is a scenario where a tester is communicating anonymously, through typed text, with a computer and with a person. The goal of the test is to have the computer fool the tester into thinking that he is communicating with another person via typed conversations. Given the specifications of such a test, emotional processing is a must simply because it is being evaluated by humans, emotional creatures.
From here, we can see that the incorporation of emotions into artificial life is not as necessary for it as it is for organic life. Organic life has had billions of years of evolution and emotions were retained as a means of providing the organism with a means to surviving Earth’s chaotic conditions. However, once society reaches a point where people spend more time tinkering on machines than protecting themselves from dangerous beasts, we can say with full assurance that machine life does not require emotions for survival. It seems to me that the primary motivation behind incorporating emotions into machine life stems from the social desire to connect with robots and form connections with them, which is why people tend to befriend their pets than with their dishwasher.
But is it wise to incorporate emotions and consciousness into machines? To what end will this accomplish? Are we creating artificial life as a means of exploring the boundaries of nature and consciousness or to exploit robots to do the bidding of their human masters? Would it even be possible to implement consciousness into machines/robots or would they be merely mimicking conscious behavior? I’ll touch on this issue in the next article but I would recommend that you watch or re-watch Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy with a special emphasis on the characters of Ultron and Rocket the Raccoon for the argument against implementing consciousness in artificial life.