2. Artificial feelings
The most famous emotional computer is probably HAL 9000 from the movie "2001 - A Space Odyssey" by Stanley Kubrick. It was a shock for many people to see a vision of an artificial intelligence equal, if not superior, to humans. But much more fearsome was that this machine had emotions, too, which led finally to the destruction of all humans aboard the spaceship.
It was probably no coincidence that one of the advisors to Stanley Kubrick was Marvin Minsky, one of the fathers of Artificial Intelligence. For Minsky, an emotional computer is a thoroughly realistic vision:
Nowadays, al lot of AI researchers accept the fact that emotions are imperative for the functioning of an "intelligent" computer. This insight does not stem from a deep reflection over the topic but rather from the failures of classical AI. The new catchphrase, therefore, is not AI, but AE - artificial emotions.
As well as the idea of an intelligent computer, the idea of an emotional computer constitutes for most people more of a threat than of a hopeful vision. On the other hand, such a concept holds a strange fascination. It is no coincidence that emotional machines play an important role in the popular culture.
Take "Terminator 2", for example. In James Cameron's movie, the Terminator is a robot without any feelings who learns to understand human emotions in the course of the story. There is even one scene in which it looks like he is able to experience an emotion itself, though the director leaves us speculating if this really is the case. Another example is the robot from "No. 5 lives" which changes from a war machine into a "good human".
Robots are, at least in popular culture, often described as strange beings whose character is mainly threatening. This is a trait they share with "true" aliens. Remember Star Trek's Mr. Spock, who only seems to know logic but no feelings, like all inhabitants of his home planet, Vulcan. But in many episodes we come to see that even he cannot function without emotions.
And even "Alien", the monster from the films of the same name, terrifies us by its ferocity and its malicious intelligence, but underneath it harbours at least some rudimentary feelings, as we can see in the fourth part of the series.
It could be concluded thus that a strange intelligence becomes really threatening for us humans only then if it has at least a minimum of emotions. Because if it consisted only of pure logic, its behaviour would be predictable and finally controllable by humans.
No surprise, then, that emotions finally have found their way into Artificial Intelligence. MIT's Affective Computing Group describes the necessity to develop emotional computers as follows:
Although the works of Damasio are quite recent, this position is not new but can be traced back to the 1960s. However, it has been forgotten - at least by most AI researchers. The utter inability of computers to execute complex activities autonomously has revived interest in this approach. Where in the past the emphasis of AI research lay with the representation of knowledge, this has now changed to the development of "intelligent autonomous agents".
The interest in autonomous agents results from practical requirements, too. Take space exploration, for example: Wouldn't it be great to send robots to faraway planets which can autonomously explore and react, because a remote control would be impractical or impossible over such a distance? Or take software agents which would be able to autonomously sift through the internet, decide which information is of use to their "master" and even change the course of their search independently?
Franklin and Graesser define an autonomous agent as follows:
According to this definition, autonomous agents can be implemented as pure software - something which is hotly debated by a number of researchers. Brustoloni (1991) for example defines an autonomous agent as a system that is able to react appropiately and in real time to stimuli from a real, material environment in an autonomous and target-oriented way.
Pfeifer (1996), too, believes that a physical implementation is a indispensable condition for an autonomous agent, especially if it should have emotions. His four basic principles for a real life agent according to the "Fungus Eater" principle are:
The agent must be able to function without human intervention, supervision, or direction.
The agent must be able to keep itself functioning over a longer period of time, i.e. to conserve or fill up its energy resources, to repair itself etc.
The agent must have a physical body through which it can interact with the physical world. This body is especially important:
The agent must be able to control all its interactions with its environment itself and to let its own experiences influence this interaction.
A taxonomy for autonomous agents as proposed by Franklin and Graesser (1996) makes clear that autonomous agents of all kinds are not fundamentally different from humans:
Fig. 1: Taxonomy of autonomous agents (Franklin and Graessner, 1996, p. 7)
The demand for a physical impementation has led to a closer co-operation between robotics and AI. Individual aspects of the principles have already been realized through this co-operation, but there exists no implementation of a complete system which would be sufficient for all the described requirements (at least not one that I know of).
Despite the increased interest in autonomous agents, the attempts to create intelligent machines so far must be regarded as failures, even if, for example, Simon (1996) is of a different opinion. Franklin (1995) outlines the three substantial AI debates of the last 40 years, which arose in each case from the failure of the preceding approaches.
It stands without doubt that these failures advanced the development of intelligent machines, but, as Picard (1997) points out, there ist still a substantial part missing. And this part are the emotions.
It is interesting that the increasing interest in emotions in the AI research has a parallel in the increasing interest of cognitive psychology in emotions. In the last decades, emotion psychology never had the center stage but was relegated to the sidelines. This is changing considerably, certainly aided by recent discoveries from the neurosciences (see e.g. LeDoux, 1996) which attribute to the emotional subsystem a far higher importance for the functioning of the human mind than assumed so far.
A further parallel can be observed in the increasing interest in the topic "consciuousness". This discussion was also carried primarily from the circles of artificial intelligence, the neurosciences and philosophy into psychology. A cursory glance at some of the substantial publications shows, however, that the old dichotomy between cognition and emotion continues here: Almost none of the available works on consciousness discusses emotions.
This is the more astonishing because the fact is undisputed that at least some emotions cannot exist without consciousness. Specifically all those emotions which presuppose a conception of "self", for example shame. One does not need to know the discussion around "primary" and "secondary" emotions to state that there are emotions which arise independently of consciousness; but likewise emotions, which presuppose consciousness.