© 2018 by MADELINE MCNEILL

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ROBOT "EMOTIONS"



Is this human? Does this robot accurately represent a human being?

I don't have a problem when people try to create emotional artificial intelligence. I do have a problem when the robot demonstrates, in my opinion, an inaccurate conceptualization of human emotion. That's the case here. And it isn't the first time. Over the years, I've developed a deep dislike for robot technology.

Did you feel it too? A visceral reaction to that moving shell of facial parts. What's wrong with it? After all, science tells us that the brain controls the body, which this robot clearly demonstrates. So why does it feel empty?

Let me offer a fantasy. I imagine emotional AI as a mirror for humanity. Like a painting or a human sculpture that evokes deep emotional movement, emotional AI would exercise emotion similar to us, and upon seeing it, people would be utterly amazed by its ability to embody feeling. But what does that mean, to "embody feeling?" What is the blueprint for creating an emotional robot?

Let me start by saying I reject the current paradigm that claims that the brain controls the body. There are many people who believe the human psyche is contained in the brain, and of those people, there are some who create robots. Their resulting creations create a disorienting experience for the rest of us. Why is it disorienting? Among other things, it's ironically exclusive. It's like looking at an occasional illustration within the pages of a novel: the pictures are nice, but you don't need them to understand the story, unless you can't read, then you're fucked. I look at this robot and I get the sense that I can't read. I feel I am excluded from the club of people who know the "true" brain code. Looking at this superfluous shell of facial movement, I feel illiterate of human emotion on a deep level, which fills me with a deep unease. Then it makes me mad, because I know that I am far from illiterate about human emotion, which immediately makes me suspect that there is something deeply wrong with this particular conceptualization of the human psyche.

What is wrong? It might be well to ask: what feels wrong, and why is "feeling" a legitimate starting point for objection? Is feeling, at its core, biological brain coding? Or is feeling a sensory process that requires much more body than just the brain? I say the latter. The maker of this robot would say the former. It's a profound disagreement. I look at his robot, and I learn more about him than I do about humanity. He believes that the brain codes emotion first. Body movement follows. In other words, human emotion can be distilled to brain activity, and the rest of the body, well, it's just biological machinery; it carries the brain and it doesn't feel.

Is that right? We've all heard the argument that brain controls body, and many people accept the theory, but when they see it demonstrated by a robot, it feels...wrong. Why? Because people experience a different biological mechanism than what they observe of the robot--and they intuitively feel it.

All of you have experienced deep emotion in yourself and have observed it in others. What is the difference between that experience and the brain-to-body mechanism demonstrated by this robot? To answer, I'd like to offer a meditation in the first-person:

I am human. I am alive. I will die. Within me are core muscles, an architectural terrain of sensory inner flesh. The core muscles span from head to pelvis and reside in the deep centers of body--the muscle heart, the diaphragm, the muscle stomach, the muscle gut, the muscle pelvic floor. They move the breath. They move food. They move blood. They feel. These and other deep muscles respond to internal events to sustain their life and the life of body. Emotions structure from the experiences of these core muscles. Emotions structure as the core muscles respond, moment to moment, to inner events of irritation, pain, pleasure, warmth, invigoration, fatigue, pressure, and strain. I am full of inner events. I am full of internal experiences that are felt. The body, which includes the brain, structures core muscle events into responsive movement, which we call emotion.

No wonder the robot feels empty. It has no core muscles. It has no need to create emotion. When I sing, my gut muscles, abdominal muscles, chest, neck, and head muscles, they all exercise and it feels good. I breathe in....breathing muscles expand, and on exhalation the restless abdominals, the pelvic floor, the gut, all together contract triggering reflexes up the body including in the throat and in the face, sculpting vocal moans and sighs, richly shaped, creating an emotional facial expression that other people can see. People see the configuration of my facial muscles as a reflexive result of the exercise in the lower core--the core being the true epicenter of the emotional event. Human emotion evolved out of a need for the human body to structure internal events, moment to moment, to maintain itself, and to communicate its inner life to others. Our emotional activities, like laughing and crying, shake the core muscles, cleansing them, warming them, loosening tension. Does the robot need to cleanse, warm, and loosen core muscles throughout its mechanical body? No. Why would it? It has no muscle flesh that needs to be cleansed, warmed, and loosened. It has no core muscles for exercising biological movement essential to its life. It has no ability to feel what a human feels, because it lacks the inner biology of a human being.

This robot, this charade of a "woman" communicating facial expressions, as a demonstration of emotional authenticity, is ridiculous. It makes me mad to see humans represented like this. And I haven't even started on the fact that the designers are men creating their version of a woman. In lieu of continuing on that topic for several more paragraphs, I will offer them a suggestion: if you're really interested in understanding the roots of human emotion, don't waste your time making a female robot. Make a male robot that looks exactly like you, and then observe how you feel when you talk to it.

As to the future of robot technology, I want to see more people with skill for analyzing deep inner feeling to develop theory about how to create emotional artificial intelligence. To create an emotional robot, we would have to design its interior to be very similar to our own. We would design its humanity based on an understanding of the fragile and vulnerable nature of our own inner biology. Then, upon presenting it to the world, perhaps we, as a human race, will express a shared sigh when our creation looks at us and, like a beautiful piece of art, communicates to us the truth of our humanity.

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