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(ILR) Byrke Lou: Crying AI: The Role of Emotion in Human-AI Exchanges


Case Study

Crying AI


In the following case study, I will look at the science fiction novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick from 1968. I will focus on the role of emotion in the differentiation of human and artificial humans. The novel will be an anchor for discussing current notions around the human-likeness and consciousness of artificial intelligence (AI).

The novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is set in a post-apocalyptic, future world. As the earth was exposed to heavy automatic radiation, humans were encouraged to move to off- world colonies. They are given human-like beings as slaves as a form of compensation. These androids are so similar to humans that empathy tests are conducted to differentiate them from humans.


Current discussions in pop culture, the arts, and a large number of media outlets treat AI as a human-like being becoming more and more indistinguishable from humans almost by the minute. The current state of AI is often portrayed as if we had produced general artificial intelligence or even super AI, when actually we have only produced forms of weak artificial intelligence so far. As a result, questions about AI consciousness and AI emotion are discussed. These discussions often revolve around hypotheses that AI could have similar ways of feeling and consciousness as humans. If yes, an AI would be considered “real AI,” “alive,” and “human- like,” no longer “just” a machine.


We do not have a clear, unified definition for consciousness or feelings in the sciences. Therefore, the discussion of artificial feelings or consciousness is very theoretical. For humans, sensing is a complex combination of bodily sensors, processing information, and body feedback. We cannot know how another human being feels, much less anticipate how a machine could feel.


It is important to say that, currently, artificial intelligence is a broad field of research encompassing many disciplines that try to model and reproduce human behavior. Research is contributed from various fields related to different forms of human behavior: natural language processing, statistical learning, speech recognition, symbolic learning, pattern recognition, robotics, machine learning, and many more.


Why are we so curious about artificial intelligence? Why do we feel so enthusiastic about artificial intelligence? Why do so many of us feel AI has a consciousness or emotions even though the bits of our artificial intelligence are stuck in our gadgets and do not even have a physical body yet—in contrast to the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.

Maybe the reason lies in our intimate relationship with the technology, which holds current-day “AI.” In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the main protagonist is in continued exchange with a woman. He is often unsure if she is a human or an android and what the implications would be if she were an android. But through shared time and interaction, he falls in love with her. We take our phones and technology wherever we go. It helps us in countless ways to organize our lives, connect with others, work our jobs, guide us as we walk the city or search the internet, and AI is an increasing element in all these processes. For several years now, statistics show that we spend significantly more time looking at our phones than looking at our partners.

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