Re: computer pain

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2006 11:01:41 -0800

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Brent Meeker writes:
>> I would say that many complex mechanical systems react to "pain" in a way similar to simple animals. For example, aircraft have automatic shut downs and fire extinguishers. They can change the flight controls to reduce stress on structures. Whether they feel this "pain" is a different question. I think they feel it if they incorporate it into a narrative to which values are attached for purposes of learning ("Don't do that again, it hurts."). But that's my theory of qualia - a speculative one.
> Pain mostly comes before learning. Infants are born with the
> ability to experience pain, so they learn to avoid activities which
> cause pain.

But the learning is a higher level thing. The experience has two levels. One is just hardwired reactions, pulling your hand back from the fire. The aircraft already has this, as to some very simple organisms. The other is part of consciousness, which I speculate is creating a narrative in memory with attached emotional values. Babies certainly feel pain in the first sense, but they seem to have to learn to cry when hurt. I've accidentally stuck one of my infant children when diapering them and gotten no reaction.

>It seems to be hardwired at a very basic level, which
> makes me think that it ought to be easier to implement in an AI than
> more complex cognitive processes and behaviours. But how would
> a behaviour such as an aircraft's reaction to a fire on board be
> characterised as "painful" in the way an infant putting its hand in a
> flame is painful? If the aircraft's experience is not painful, what can
> do to make it more like the baby's?

Add the narrative memory with values attached and then the ability to review that memory when contemplating future actions.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Wed Dec 13 2006 - 14:02:03 PST

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