RE: computer pain

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2006 17:40:26 +1100

Brent Meeker writes:

> > My computer is completely dedicated to sending this email when I click
> > on "send".
> Actually, it probably isn't. You probably have a multi-tasking operating system which assigns priorities to different tasks (which is why it sometimes can be as annoying as a human being in not following your instructions). But to take your point seriously - if I look into your brain there are some neuronal processes that corresponded to hitting the "send" button; and those were accompanied by biochemistry that constituted your positive feeling about it: that you had decided and wanted to hit the "send" button. So why would the functionally analogous processes in the computer not also be accompanied by an "feeling"? Isn't that just an anthropomorphic way of talking about satisfying the computer operating in accordance with it's priorities. It seems to me that to say otherwise is to assume a dualism in which feelings are divorced from physical processes.

Feelings are caused by physical processes (assuming a physical world), but
it seems impossible to deduce what the feeling will be by observing the
underlying physical process or the behaviour it leads to. Is a robot that
withdraws from hot stimuli experiencing something like pain, disgust, shame,
sense of duty to its programming, or just an irreducible motivation to avoid heat?
> >Surely you don't think it gets pleasure out of sending it and
> > suffers if something goes wrong and it can't send it? Even humans do
> > some things almost dispassionately (only almost, because we can't
> > completely eliminate our emotions)
> That's crux of it. Because we sometimes do things with very little feeling, i.e. dispassionately, I think we erroneously assume there is a limit in which things can be done with no feeling. But things cannot be done with no value system - not even thinking. That's the frame problem.
> Given a some propositions, what inferences will you draw? If you are told there is a bomb wired to the ignition of your car you could infer that there is no need to do anything because you're not in your car. You could infer that someone has tampered with your car. You could infer that turning on the ignition will draw more current than usual. There are infinitely many things you could infer, before getting around to, "I should disconnect the bomb." But in fact you have value system which operates unconsciously and immediately directs your inferences to the few that are important to you. A way to make AI systems to do this is one of the outstanding problems of AI.

OK, an AI needs at least motivation if it is to do anything, and we could call
motivation a feeling or emotion. Also, some sort of hierarchy of motivations is
needed if it is to decide that saving the world has higher priority than putting
out the garbage. But what reason is there to think that an AI apparently
frantically trying to save the world would have anything like the feelings a
human would under similar circumstances? It might just calmly explain that
saving the world is at the top of its list of priorities, and it is willing to do things
which are normally forbidden it, such as killing humans and putting itself at risk
of destruction, in order to attain this goal. How would you add emotions such
as fear, grief, regret to this AI, given that the external behaviour is going to
be the same with or without them because the hierarchy of motivation is already
> >out of a sense of duty, with no
> > particular feeling about it beyond this. I don't even think my computer
> > has a sense of duty, but this is something like the emotionless
> > motivation I imagine AI's might have. I'd sooner trust an AI with a
> > matter-of-fact sense of duty
> But even a sense of duty is a value and satisfying it is a positive emotion.

Yes, but it is complex and difficult to define. I suspect there is a limitless variety
of emotions that an AI could have, if the goal is to explore what is possible
rather than what is helpful in completing particular tasks, and most of these
would be unrecognisable to humans.
> >to complete a task than a human motivated
> > by desire to please, desire to do what is good and avoid what is bad,
> > fear of failure and humiliation, and so on.
> Yes, human value systems are very messy because a) they must be learned and b) they mostly have to do with other humans. The motivation of tigers, for example, is probably very simple and consequently they are never depressed or manic.

Conversely, as above, we can imagine far more complicated value systems and
> >Just because evolution came
> > up with something does not mean it is the best or most efficient way of
> > doing things.
> But until we know a better way, we can't just assume nature was inefficient.

Biological evolution is extremely limited in how it functions, and efficiency given these
limitations is not the same as absolute efficiency. For example, we might do better
with durable metal bodies with factories producing spare parts as needed, but such
a system is unlikely to evolve naturally as a result of random genetic mutation.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Wed Dec 27 2006 - 01:40:43 PST

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