My coworkers and I are having an argument regarding AI feeling emotions. Basically, the overarching question is whether or not AI will eventually be able to feel emotions. Here are the arguments.

First, we do not understand emotions within our own human brains, nor within any other living organisms. However, they do exist. These emotions could be produced with algorithms or could be produced using some method we cannot even comprehend. So, if centuries down the road, we do understand emotion, and program it into something, that AI could potentially feel emotion.

Second, AI is currently defined by, usually, something involving program code. However, if some day, we discover that it is more efficient or more productive to produce AI by building a neuron-connected system similar to the human brain, that would still be AI, though seeming rather similar to a real human brain.

So, from your perspective, does the possibility exist that AI can/will feel emotion at some point in the future?

  • 2
    This is literally the topic of volumes of theses, not just a simple StackExchange answer. However, you may find value in exploring a related question. You mention that we could program emotions into AI if we understood their algorithms. Is it possible for an AI to do something which was not explicitly programmed into it?
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 20:59
  • First we'd have to agree that AI is possible and what we mean by 'AI'. You've leapt over this problem to that of whether AI could feel emotions and sensations, I would say no, the idea is ridiculous. Here we are unable to define or explain consciousness or even detect its presence empirically and yet we speculate about making machines conscious and even whether they will have emotions. This stuff is even less testable than string theory and is not just 'not even wrong' but not even a theory. . .
    – user20253
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


Actually, we do understand a lot of the neural 'mechanics' that drive emotion in the brain. We even understand why it had to evolve that way.

While still trying to retain some semblance of brevity, a human brain is made up of 3 systems, all operating simultaneously and that have specific purposes. The Cerebellum is the (hard-wired electrical) system that drives the muscles (including the heart) and primary instincts, like hunger, survival, procreation, etc. Emotions are driven by the (chemical) Limbic system, or reptilian brain. This evolved because pure instinct can get you into trouble when things like hunger and survival are in conflict. Whereas fear gives context to that situation, and allows for a statistically higher chance of survival.

Finally, you have the (soft-wired electrical) Cerebral Cortex, or mammalian brain. This is the seat of reason, and is 'programmable' so that the organism can modify its behaviour according to environment, meaning that survival is now possible even in environments that change faster than evolution can keep up.

Classical computers have the equivalent of a cerebellum (BIOS etc.) and a cerebral cortex (OS and Applications), but it doesn't have a system for chemical disruptions per se.

These chemical disruptions can be simulated, but they cannot be experienced by computers. So, in that sense, computers can never 'feel' emotions in the same way that we do.

A broader point that's related to this is that even if a computer ever achieves sentience as we understand it, it won't be human. We may be able to simulate a sense of survival, hunger, etc. but that's a really bad idea for many reasons outside the scope of this question and even if we did do it, the simulation may make such an intelligence 'feel' human to us, but that's a result of our own anthropomorphisation of the AI; we would be inferring intelligence upon the AI, it would not be implying it to us.

Even the term 'artificial intelligence' should imply that we are talking about the ability to simulate a general processing capability, which is very different to the question of sentience. That the only sentient entities we've ever observed are living humans, it doesn't follow that a computer that is intelligent is either sentient or living. This is a simple classification error because classification only goes in one direction; object to group. You can classify all bees as insects, but you can't classify all insects as bees.

In like manner, all living humans are intelligent, but not all possible intelligences will be alive or think like humans.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .