Computers with Emotions

By Epstein, Jeffrey H. | The Futurist, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Computers with Emotions


Epstein, Jeffrey H., The Futurist


Sensitive computers with a fear of crashing may lie ahead.

The next big breakthrough in artificial intelligence could come from giving machines not just more logical capacity, but emotional capacity as well.

Feelings aren't usually associated with inanimate machines, but Rosalind Picard, the author of Affective Computing, believes emotion may be just the thing computers need to work effectively.

Computers need artificial emotion both to understand their human users better and to achieve self-analysis and self-improvement, says Picard, a professor of computer technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The more scientists study the "wetware" model for computing - the human brain and nervous system - the more they conclude that emotions are part of intelligence, not separate from it. Emotions are among the tools that we use to process the tremendous amount of stimuli in our environment. They also play a role in human learning and decision making. Feeling bad about a wrong decision, for instance, focuses attention on avoiding future error. A feeling of pleasure, on the other hand, positively reinforces an experience.

"If we want computers to be genuinely intelligent, to adapt to us, and to interact naturally with us, then they will need the ability to recognize and express emotions, to have emotions, and to have what has come to be called 'emotional intelligence,'" Picard says.

One way that emotions can help computers, she suggests, is by helping keep them from crashing. Today's computers produce error messages, but they do not have a "gut feeling" of knowing when something is wrong or doesn't make sense. …

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