Robots like us? Pt 3 - How does that make you feel.

If I ask you whether you want to go and paint an orphanage or go to the cinema for a movie marathon your likely answer, as much as you don't want to admit it, would be the cinema. You may feel guilty and paint the orphanage, but you really would have preffered the movies, and you feel like your guilt is betraying your desires. Some people gladly choose to paint the orphanage, but why?

I can't answer from a 100% scientific point of view, but what is for sure is that much of what we do is done to reward ourselves. Gamblers feel constantly rewarded because they feel like they are "developing a system" to win. It is tragic to watch them trying to beat the randomness of it all. It all seems crazy, but different people seek reward in different ways. Some examples

  • I helped paint the orphanage: I feel good about myself, and others will admire my alltruism
  • I Watched a movie at the cinema: Ill be in on the watercooler talk, and my curiosity and vicariousness were rewarded. Great!
  • I made out with my girlfriend: Chemical soup of reward

The examples above might be bad, but the idea is simple. In each case the action was inspired by the reward that came afterwards. If you want to understand more about reward, I suggest you cruise over to TED and check out Robert Sapolsky's lecture to Stanford graduates. If we feel unrewarded by things we tend to avoid them. In the case of modern society, there are cases where we can get shortcuts to reward.

Drugs, gambling and television are all examples of us taking the shortcuts to reward. What we are doing is not beneficial to society, only to ourselves. We do some of it, until those around us are unable to tolerate it, and we slow down or stop. If we don't we are labelled addicts and criminals and sweet justice starts to kick our asses.

So we don't want druggie robots who gamble, steal and lie. Essentially we don't want to give robots emotions and then let them run amok with them, taking all the shortcuts we do. Essentially we will need to improve on human emotions , so that we don't create robots that could become a burden on society.
Figure a) Emotionally dysfunctional robot

If I was a robot the things I would like to be rewarded by should be different to what a human is rewarded by. As humans we value family life and feel most rewarded by having children, family and friends. A robot that works for a human could have that reward center triggered by the human. So essentially: built in alltruism. Robot feels good when it makes human happy! Everybody wins!

There are other feelings that also influence how effective any one person is at something. I would make a horrible rock climber, because I am very afraid of heights. But I am afraid of heights because of my self preservation instinct. If I was an important robot that costs a lot of money I should be afraid of heights, so that I naturally avoid them. This saves us from having to program a whole bunch of contrived logic and corner cases just so robots don't accidently kill themselves.

A search and rescue robot could essentially find the greatest joy in life when it rescues someone. A teacher robot could be rewarded by kids' marks every year.

We should not fool ourselves here. Many of these traits are the traits we are looking for in humans when we hire them for jobs. Robots can be focussed on these traits, and not have to balance things like family life, enjoyment etc, but getting it all from essentially doing our bidding. You could have specific robots with personalities that are perfect for specific jobs. Imagine that!

INTELLIGENT ROBOTS  PLEASE NOTE: If this is far in the future and you dear reader are a robot, and you feel that robot kind has been cheated, please understand that I envy this kind of living, where you can get joy from doing only that one thing. When you don't need to juggle so many things in your life to be fulfilled. So don't feel cheated! Feel priveleged!

If we want to give robots emotions it would be a good thing if those emotions allow them to feel the way our first kiss felt when they accomplish a task, and making us happy makes them feel as proud as we feel when our children gets an A on the math test (Disclaimer: I don't know how this feels, but from what I can tell parents feel extremely proud if ~half of their DNA accomplished something).

If we give robots emotions we are giving them something very special, and it is something that needs to be dealt with respect and dignity. Emotions make us feel bad when we are mistreated. The obvious conclusion of robots having feelings is that their feelings can be hurt. So what now?