The question of "Could a machine/AI ever feel genuine human-like emotions"? arises in movies such as Bladerunner, IRobot, Star Trek and A.I among others. What is the philosophical arguement behind why the humans generally assume that a machine/AI cant feel genuine human-like emotions and act like it's a big deal when they learn that the machine/AI do feel genuine human-like emotions?

Also, why do humans assume that Machines/AI are untrustworthy because of their percieved lack of emotions? Doesnt Ethical philosophy generally teach that ethical decisions come from reason and principles, not passions? It just seems as though a machine/AI that follows the golden rule could possibly be more ethical than some humans.

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    Seems very close to philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/711/…?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 15:26
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    To clarify my understanding ... do you think I can ever definitively prove that another person has internal mental or emotional states? They could just be figments of my solipsistic imagination. And secondly, doesn't your own life experience show that your emotions often color your ethical choices?
    – user4894
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 15:39
  • maybe that you could never definitively prove that another person has internal mental or emotional states could be the basis for not writing off that a machine/AI could feel genuine human-like emotions. and, i think emotions unregulated can influence ethical decisions, usually negatively in my experience, and are not necessary for ethical decisions with reason and self-control properly cultivated Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 16:52
  • You have a physical brain structure that developed to allow you to feel emotions. There is no good, non-mystical, reason to think that an AI with a similar structure cannot be developed. Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 15:24
  • An AI might feel genuine non-human-like emotions. An AI inside a robotic body will likely never worry "people look at me and think I'm fat", but might worry "people look at me and see all my rusty spots".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 16:04

3 Answers 3


It really depends on how we achieve such a mind. Lets say we do it by fully simulating the human brain and all its biochemistry, then yes, I think it would have emotion. However, John Searle, who doesn't think we can make concious machines, would say even if we simulate the mind, its not a real conciousness. Its no different from running any other kind of software. It's just that software outwardly creates an impression. However, the real answer is, we don't know.

Also the problem of proving whether something has emotion or not is different from whether its possible or.

Why we worry about a non emotional rational mind? Ethics based on pure reason and rational thought may not match the actual decisions we as humans might make. Making "exceptions" for emotional reasons is a strong theme in movies about AI where it decides the most rational thing violates our sense of emotional caring.

Like the Matrix, where agent smith rationalizes that any organism that spreads uncontrollably and destroys its host is a virus and should be destroyed :)

  • In The Matrix, the problem isn't Agent Smith's rationalisation, the problem is that the virus is us :-)
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 16:49
  • A genuine human emotion can only be had by a real human, by definition; this is just like a genuine IBM PC can only be manufactured by IBM. Everything else is just an IBM-compatible, or human-like. Practically, ehat matters isn't whether or not its genuine human emotions; but rather whether or not the hardware can run the emotion component well enough to fulfill its job, which is to restrict the rational component.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 3:02
  • note that in the question its not asking genuine human.... it appends the word "like". The genuine I'm assuming refers to the word "emotion" Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 5:31

The assumption that a computer couldn't feel emotion is essentially a Physicalist prespective. Type physicalists think that every emotion corresponds to a certain structure and state of being in the brain, a specific structure of neurons activating in a specific pattern. This is derived from the fact that we know changing the state of your brain changes the state of your emotions and the other way around, so it seems reasonable to think that the brain state and mental state are in fact the same thing. If this is the case, then a computer can't experience the same emotion we can, because it doesn't have the capabilities of having the same brain-state. This doesn't necessarily preclude a computer having a mind, just human emotion.

As a side note, a large number of philosophers and neuroscientists are Functionalists, meaning the function of the mental state, not the corresponding brain state, defines the mental state. Anything that serves to warn of bodily damage is pain, not only C-Nerves firing in the human brain. I prefer this because Physicalism has some alarming implications, such as that animals cannot feel "pain" the way we can.

An emotionless being is so terrifying because the human concept of morals, in the everyday sense, is largely if not completely based on empathy. Empathy is a key trait in all species that successfully work in groups, especially pack animals, because it allows creatures to naturally look out for each other. When a person feels that something is wrong, it is often because they can imagine how the wronged person feels, and replicating that emotion makes the observer feel bad and want to fix things. Since this is our deeply ingrained way of understanding morality in a heuristic day to day sense, it's a natural conclusion that a machine incapable of emotion, and therefor empathy, could not have ethics in the way that we do.

  • "An emotionless being is so terrifying .." - on the contrary, consider: a weaponized and active 'bot with issues!?
    – slashmais
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 11:13
  • Why would emotions be necessary for empathy?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 16:52
  • @slashmais Well yeah, anything dangerous and not acting the way we would expect is scary. A "bot with issues" is another being that probably doesn't follow a common moral pattern, and that makes it scary.
    – Cain
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 17:24
  • @gnasher729 Empathy is literally the ability to feel what another is or may be feeling. So to have empathy for someone, you need to feel the emotions you think they are feeling, which means you nee emotions.
    – Cain
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 17:25
  • You don't have to feel their emotions, you just have to understand their emotions. I understand that you feel pain if you break your leg, I understand that you feel unhappy if your boyfriend or girlfriend leaves you. I can understand both and act accordingly even if I didn't feel pain if I broke a leg or if I couldn't feel happy or unhappy.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 16:00

Emotions are the residue of survivalist evolution of organisms with limited and frail hold on continuation. The big mistake when considering emotions regarding artificial entities is in confusing this evolutionary trait as an imperative for "being alive / sentient-intelligent". Such a machine entity as you refer to would in essence be immortal and thus have no need for evolved emotions in the above sense. What could be useful are emotion-instinct-analogs, some impulsion that prioritizes a behavior based on some event or situation (experience?), e.g.: perceived threat of damage (as analog to 'fear/anxiety/apprehension'), low-energy/battery ;) (as analog to 'hunger/thirst'), etc, to facilitate timely and pertinent responses. Then again, there would be better ways to do this ...

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