Ask someone what the feelings are. In all likelihood, you will hear that they are dealing with affection and love relationships. Ask a neuroscientist the same question and he will answer anything but. “Emotions are interactive perceptions,” says Antonio Damasio, 78, a kind of neuroscience guru.
“Emotions contribute to the management of life – says Damasio, who was born and completed his studies in Lisbon – they inform every mind about the state of life in the organism to which it belongs. Emotions give that mind an incentive to act in accordance with the positive or negative signals from their messages ”.
A chapter of Feel and know, the latest essay by Damasio recently published in Italy by Adelphi Publishing, talks about “machines that hear” and “conscious machines”. Machines that do not really exist. Damasio complains about just this: the pioneers of artificial intelligence have focused only on the efficiency and speed of action that characterize humans, omitting “the whole side of emotions” that are actually meant primarily as information.
“Emotions – Damasio explains to us – are actually information. In the case of love, they inform us about how much we want another person, or how much we care about them. The emotions we developed for the first time, during our evolution “They were about life management, and they were completely genuine and helpful. And, of course, they were also informative because they told us what was right and wrong with the way we control our lives.”
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In short, machines equipped with artificial intelligence are efficient. But without the emotions, their ‘evolutionary’ course is stopped by the primitive life forms billions of years ago. Only the appearance of emotions, and therefore of a conscience, has enabled man to implement mechanisms associated with prosperity and the formation of cultures.
So what are these machines missing to experience ‘real’ emotions comparable to humans’?
“The problem here is about experiencing what a particular organism ‘feels’ personally. What a machine can do is one thing: AI is ready to deliver. The difficulty lies in creating inner feelings, that is, in creating experiences. In short, in making sure a car feels in its own meat he’s doing something. “
Emotions can be positive or negative. Artificial intelligence and the machines of the future worry us: their dark side disturbs us. Can we imagine and develop a calming machine that has only positive emotions? Or can this machine, devoid of negative emotions, never be considered complete from the point of view of experience and thus of consciousness?
“We must be careful. Acting positively is one thing, feeling or experiencing positivity is another. We have never had such creatures in the wild. Evolutionary necessity has always given us positive and negative sides. But I can certainly imagine machines that would only work positively. Their conscious experiences would only be positive. “
We believe that fear, joy and anger – to name just a few – are ’emotions’ that machines are unlikely to experience. Even movies that take place in the future often depict robots that are unable to fully experience human emotions. Think of Spielberg’s AI movie. Still, if we were to rely on the theories that you and other experts have formulated very effectively about building consciousness, the recipe should be simpler than you think: it would be enough to equip the machines with sensors to really perceive the world, external and the other by itself. And at that point, the road to experience and consciousness would be downhill. Am I oversimplifying?
“I think she overlooks the fact that the ‘substrate’ [le molecole e le reazioni chimiche, ndr] it probably means something. In other words, we can mimic the design of our affective organisms, but we can not build machines that copy all the fine details at the molecular level that I think emotions depend on. “
Are the machines we are talking about capable of feeling too difficult to create, or are they just around the corner?
“I’m not that close to those cars. They are not only difficult to create, but perhaps impossible to create. The emotions you or I experience are only possible in living organisms made of our own type of organic molecules. This is what science tells me to date. I may be wrong, of course, but all I see possible is “imitations” of emotions. And that’s not enough at the moment. “
Humanoids are becoming more and more realistic. Some robots do not have a shred of conscience, but they have such human traits and expressions that they leave you speechless. But we all know that humanoids like these are little more than puppets in human hands. Is that why, in your opinion, we humans are unable to feel affection or love for these machines? Is it possible that the only emotion they can evoke in us is wonder? When these machines are one day sophisticated, complex, capable of gaining an awareness as in Hbo’s cult series Westworld, then and only then will our feelings towards them be different?
“To answer your question, we need to separate our perception of the robot from the potential perception of the robot itself. We can be completely deceived by the look as we are constantly in the theater and in the cinemas. We can believe in a reality that does not exist. But there is no “perception” comparable to that of man, from the point of view of the robot, because there is no such machine, from a biological point of view “.
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