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Keywords:

  • [human–robot interaction;
  • empathy;
  • emotion;
  • neuroscience;
  • technology;
  • anthropomorphism]

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

Roboticists developing socially interactive robots seek to design them in such a way that humans will readily anthropomorphize them. For this anthropomorphizing to occur, robots need to display emotion-like responses to elicit empathy from the person, so as to enable social interaction. This article focuses on roboticists’ efforts to create emotion-like responses in humanoid robots. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the cultural dimensions of emotion and empathy are factored into these endeavors. Recent research suggests that mirror neurons or other brain structures may have a role to play in empathy and imitation. Notwithstanding this, the effect of sociocultural experience in shaping appropriate empathic responses and expectations is also crucial. More broadly, this article highlights how we are literally anthropomorphizing technology, even as the complexity of technology and the role it plays in our lives grows. Both the actual design process and the understanding of how technology shapes our daily lives are core applied dimensions of this work, from carrying out the research to capturing the critical implications of these technological innovations.


INTERACTIVE ROBOTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

When Nao is sad, he hunches his shoulders forward and looks down. When he's happy, he raises his arms, angling for a hug. When frightened, Nao cowers, and he stays like that until he is soothed with some gentle strokes on his head.

Nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps, except that Nao is a robot—the world's first that can develop and display emotions. He can form bonds with the people he meets depending on how he is treated. The more he interacts with someone, the more Nao learns a person's moods and the stronger the bonds become. [Jha 2010]

The small humanoid robot called Nao is fully programmable and autonomous. Developed by French company Aldebaran Robotics, Nao was among the humanoid robots on display at the International Robot Exhibition (IREX) held in Tokyo in November 2011. Walking around the exhibition, one could encounter service robots with a variety of different capabilities: a robot that could speak in several languages, more than one robot that could sing, robots that could walk, and a robot that could climb. Some robots could respond to human touch and react accordingly. Robots had motion detection sensors, could recognize human faces using facial recognition software, understand human speech using voice recognition software, and could learn from their interactions with humans and adjust their behavior. Many of these robots are designed as personal service robots for therapeutic use, or to work with the elderly or the infirm. Many of these robots could and would respond to the humans who stopped in front of them to try to work out what a particular robot did. What distinguished Nao from the other robots on display is that not only could he “show” emotions but he is also able to “develop” them.

In many countries around the world, robotics is big business, and expectations for future growth are high. Although most robotic development worldwide is concentrated on industrial robots, other robots include professional service robots that are able access domains that people cannot, such as in the space industry, in medicine, in mines, in the ocean, and in contexts involving nuclear waste (Bartneck and Forlizzi 2004). The increasing use of robots in warfare has many ethicists concerned (Singer 2009), and a specialized field of robot ethics is emergent (Asaro 2006). Robots initially developed for use in war zones may also be used in other contexts, such as those robots imported from the United States to Japan to assist with the Fukushima disaster.1 Professional service robots such as these are distinct from service robots designed for domestic and personal use. The latter include robots that can perform domestic chores (such as vacuum cleaning and lawn-mowing robots), and socially interactive robots designed for entertainment, education and leisure. Socially interactive service robots include companion robots, which may be humanoid or in animal form, such as Yume Neko or Yume Hiyoko (“dream cat” and “dream chick,” a robotic pet cat and baby chicken, respectively).2 In terms of developing robots that can express emotion, development is concentrated on social robots and affective computing for personal services.

For those who are unfamiliar with technological developments in this area, the idea of creating emotions or emotion-like responses in robots may seem like science fiction. In these depictions, humanoid robots have often occupied an ambiguous place: on the one hand, they act as man's creation designed to perform certain kinds of labor on man's behalf; on the other hand, if they are able to acquire humanlike attributes, such as emotion and self-awareness, they blur the boundaries between human and machine. The fact that robots develop something that appears as a kind of sentience, in many of these representations, renders them unwieldy and dangerous, a liability to humans. This theme has been explored in iconic movies such as Blade Runner (Scott 1982), based on Philip K. Dick's (2004) novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and I, Robot (Proyas 2004), its title drawn from Isaac Asimov's (1950) collection of science fiction stories of the same name.

Those who are less experientially familiar with humanoid robots, with ideas about robots informed primarily by depictions in science fiction, may find the idea uncomfortable that a humanoid robot should have or display emotions. Indeed, when I have presented work in Australia on humanoid robots, I have often encountered this reaction, and part of this is likely to be because of a lack of exposure to robots. This contrasts with the kind of exposure that people have to robotic technology in some other countries, such as Japan. With its enormous number of industrial robots, its scientific investment in humanoid-robot development, and its “robot-themed manga and anime films,” Japan is sometimes described as the “Robot Kingdom” (Schodt 2007:98). A significant impetus for Japan's investment in humanoid robot development is its concern about the nation's graying population and associated labor shortfall. In the postwar context Japan pursued automation rather than migration to satisfy its labor requirements and to rebuild its economy. Its robotics industry continues this preference for automation, and, economically, it has been suggested that in this century its robotics industry will be as successful as its car industry was in the last (Robertson 2007:371, 373).

Notwithstanding Japan's significant investment in robot technology, a large amount of work on emotions and robots also occurs in countries outside Japan. These attempts to create artificial emotion stem from a perspective that robots need to display emotion-like responses to elicit empathy from the person to enable social interaction. If, as robot ethicist Ron Arkin (Ulbrick 2008) has argued, “true robot autonomy is the holy grail,” with the ultimate goal being “to package all these things in human form,” then this aim must be predicated on also creating credible emotional responses in humanoid robots.

ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

The term robot was coined by Josef Capek, Czech playwright Karel Capek's brother, and derives from the term robota, meaning forced labor or slave (Nakamura 2007:172; Robertson 2007:373). Robots may be semiautonomous, partially human directed and controlled; or they may be autonomous (Robertson 2007:373). To say that a robot is autonomous, though, is not to say that it operates outside the programming parameters that have been set for it; rather, that it “has considerable control over its sensory inputs and the ability to choose actions based on an adaptive set of criteria rather than too rigidly predesigned a program” (Arbib 2005:371).

Around the world, an extraordinary amount of research and development is currently going on in relation to the creation of emotion-like responses or actual emotions, in robots (e.g., Becker-Asano 2008; Breazeal 2002; el Kaliouby et al. 2006; Fellous and Arbib 2005). This research and development extends beyond humanoid robotic development to other kinds of nonhumanoid robots; to affective computing, defined as “computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotions” (Picard 1997:3); and into computer–robot hybrids, such as Reeti le PCBot expressif, a French PCBot that is a mixture of a multimedia computer and a robot that can express feelings.3 These attempts are motivated by the understanding that for robots to be integrated into everyday human life, their responses to humans need to appear to be natural and intuitive (Breazeal 2002:xii).

One of the aims of human robot interaction research, then, is to identify the necessary characteristics that robots need to display or to have to facilitate sociability, partnership, and “mutual cooperation” with humans (Vidal 2007:918). One of the findings to emerge from these studies has been a positive reassessment of anthropomorphism, the attribution of human qualities to nonhumans, “as the most efficient and most spontaneous register through which humans establish—consciously or not—a strong relationship with artefacts or other nonhuman living beings” (Vidal 2007:919). An important means of facilitating comfortable interaction with robots, then, is to create robots that humans will respond to “as if” they are human. Consequently, the design of socially interactive robots is predicated, to a large extent, on designing robots that humans will readily anthropomorphize, regardless of whether the robots appear in humanoid, animal, or other forms. The physical appearance of the robot, or the way they respond, or both, may contribute to creating the register that allows humans to respond to them as though they are human or as though they have humanlike attributes and responses. This possibly explains why even some of the industrial robots at the IREX exhibition had “faces.” These “faces” no doubt augment the human tendency to “attribute emotion to things that clearly do not have emotion” (Breazeal 2002:15; Dubal et al. 2011; Picard 1997:15) by encouraging those working with the machines to see them as in some way humanlike.

Many roboticists developing social robots, robots that are designed to live with and closely interact with humans, focus not just on designing a shape to which humans will respond, although this is an important consideration in humanoid robot design. Nor do they rely only on creating some kind of “face.” To specifically facilitate human–robot interaction, they also are designing robots to display emotion, because of the effect this will have on the humans with whom such robots interact. Some working in this field take this further, making an argument for the creation of “emotion” responses in robots, namely, that emotion is central to “basic rational and intelligent behavior” (Picard 1997:2); that emotions are an essential part of intelligence, and contribute vitally to information processing, learning, and memory, functions that Worthman (1999:42) describes as “essential to intelligent being-in-the-world.”

In the field of emotions and technology, then, an important distinction is made between the goal of creating “emotion-like responses” and that of inculcating machines with “emotions.” As Fellous and Arbib (2005:v) note, those working on the creation of emotion-like responses are “content” with creating behavior that, viewed from outside the technology, replicates credible emotional responses, thus facilitating interaction. Much human–robot interaction research is directed toward this end (e.g., Breazeal 2002). Then there are those who wish to create not just the appearance of emotions, but “want to parallel, at some level of abstraction,” human emotions within machines (Fellous and Arbib 2005:vi). Among the reasons for doing so is that “emotions” within machines (computers or robots) are desirable because of the important role that emotions play in cognition, intelligence, and social interaction (e.g., Picard 1997).

The creation of emotion-like responses and the creation of emotions both present challenges in terms of the cultural aspects of emotions, and most particularly for empathy. By culture, a concept that has been the subject of much anthropological debate (e.g., see Burbank 2011:22), I am referring to patterns of socially learned and shared sociality and experience that, with some variability, significantly shape a person's ontology, that underlie some of their most basic (conscious and unconscious) premises about what it means to be human, and inform how they interact with others. Culture provides premises that, because they are progressively learned from infancy, appear to be “normal” and “natural,” simply the way that things “are.” Emotional and empathetic expressions are, in that sense, as influenced by culture as is the way that humans around the world sleep (e.g., see Worthman and Melby 2002), which, although a biological imperative, is culturally learned, shaped and experienced.

In designing robots to closely interact with humans, some roboticists are content to create the appearance of an emotion; others consider whether it is possible to create something in machines that is analogous to emotions in humans. Many integrate understandings gleaned from neuroscientific explanations of emotions, combining extremely complex technology with high-end neuroscience in creations that are truly remarkable. In my discussion below, I primarily rely on the written publications of those who are involved in attempts to create emotions or emotion-like responses in both computers and robots. Their interpretations of contemporary neuroscience and psychology in terms of the logical basis required to inculcate emotions in machines forms the focus of the data I present, and can be understood as cultural models of how emotions function that are neurobiologically inspired.4 This is a vast field, and I have necessarily had to be selective. This article then should be seen as a preliminary discussion of a much larger body of work from a neuroanthropological perspective, one that draws on anthropological and neuroscientific perspectives on emotion and empathy to identify some of the issues that a consideration of culture may have for these attempts. My argument is that if a central goal of creating emotions or emotion-like responses in robots is to enable social interaction, then culture is necessarily implicated.

WIRED FOR EMOTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

Robots that are designed to express emotion are created to elicit an emotional response from the human with whom they interact. Paro, a baby robot seal developed in Japan for therapeutic purposes as a “healing pet,” provides a useful initial basis from which to begin to explore the topic of emotion. Paro's designers say that,

When we engage physically with an animal type robot, it stimulates our affection. Then we have positive emotions such as happiness and love, or negative emotions such as anger and fear. [Shibata et al. 2001:1053]

Three of Paro's attributes are of particular interest for the discussion of virtual emotion: the robot's many sensors that allow it to interact with the environment, the ability to adapt its behavior as a result of these interactions, and the capacity of the robot to express its “feelings” in response to external stimuli.5 Having interacted with the robot, I know that it will raise its head and close its eyes with apparent “pleasure” when being gently stroked, but will “scream” loudly if someone strokes it too hard. These responses then seem to reflect its “physical” feeling in response to external stimuli. This pattern is significant to how we might think about what an “emotional” response is, and how emotional responses may be elicited from humans by these kinds of interactions.

If we subscribe to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio's distinction between emotions and feelings, we might understand these publicly observable expressions made by the robot as a kind of emotional response (rather than as an expression of feelings). Damasio distinguishes between the private, inward nature of feelings, and the public, outward nature of emotions (1999:36); both are “part of a functional continuum” (1999:43). He suggests that “feeling should be reserved for the private, mental experience of an emotion, while the term emotion should be used to designate the collection of responses, many of which are publicly observable” (Damasio 1999:42). These observable responses include facial expressions and reactions, qualities of breath (such as breathlessness, expulsion of air, sharp intake of breath), qualities of voice, pulse rate, and posture, among others. Feelings are evolved mechanisms enabling responses to environmental challenges; they are connected to preserving homeostasis, keeping equilibrium in the body by providing it with important feedback (Adolphs 2005:14; Damasio 1994). Thus, for Damasio (1999:42), a person perceives their own emotional state when they are conscious of a feeling within themselves; this means that “no-one can observe your own feelings, but some aspects of the emotions that give rise to your feelings will be patently observable to others.”

Damasio's distinction between emotions and feelings is widely drawn on by those writing about the emotions in general, and also by those working on the creation of emotions and emotion-like responses in computers and robots (e.g., Picard 1997; Prinz 2004; Becker-Asano 2008). Prinz (2004:6) describes Damasio's theory as a somatic theory of emotion, one that theorizes that changes to the body (the respiratory, endocrine, digestive, circulatory, and musculoskeletal systems) constitute an emotion. Change in facial expressions or heart rates are among such somatic changes (Prinz 2004:7). These bodily changes are neurally mapped in specific structures (Adolphs 2005:14). If an emotion involves bodily change, then we know that we feel this emotion through the pattern of arousal in the brain.

Damasio also distinguishes between primary and secondary emotions. He says that “primary” emotions are “universal,” and limits these universal emotions to just six: “happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, or disgust” (1999:50). These are the “basic emotions,” emotions that are innate and “not derived from other emotions” (Prinz 2004:88). This is the same set of basic emotions that Ekman and colleagues (1969) identified in their early cross-cultural research among the Fore of Papua New Guinea on universal facial expressions; a list that Ekman (1999) has subsequently expanded. In contrast to primary emotions, seen as innate and universal in this view, secondary emotions are “social emotions.” Some roboticists working on emotions take up this distinction between “primary” and “secondary” emotions, factoring these distinctions into their design principles. For example, in his doctoral thesis, Christian Becker-Asano (2008:19) says that “for the aim of this thesis only the six basic emotions … are important,” these being the six emotions Ekman and colleagues (1969) identified as basic emotions corresponding with particular facial expressions.

Becker-Asano is a German android scientist who deals extensively with the topic of emotions. His work has included postdoctoral research in Japan on people's reactions to robots and “virtual agents” (Iolini 2010:2; see also becker-asano.de), and applying affective computing to humanoid robots and androids in Japan, under the guidance of Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro.6 In his doctoral thesis, Becker-Asano (2008:54) says that he derives certain “assumptions” from Damasio's (1994) distinction between primary and secondary emotions.7 The “assumptions” he draws are these:

1. In contrast to primary emotions, the process resulting in secondary emotions starts with conscious, cognitive evaluation. (A)

2. The deliberation process uses and modifies aspects of the past (memories, experiences) and the future (expectations). (A)

3. Some kind of higher-order, dispositional representation forms the basis of so-called “mental images” which can be pictorial or linguistical [sic] (A)

4. The past experiences are crystallized in pairings of situations and (primary) emotions. Nonconscious processes work on these experiences to derive appropriate second-order dispositional representations that are needed for secondary emotions. (B)

5. The bodily responses (a), (b), and (c) cause an “emotional body state” (Damasio 1994, p. 138) that is subsequently analyzed in the thought process after having been signaled back “to the limbic and somatosensory systems.” (italics in the original) (C)

6. In parallel, the cognitive state itself (i.e. the brain) is directly modulated during the process. (C) [Becker-Asano 2008:54]

Becker-Asano's discussion illustrates that while the attempt to create virtual emotions relies on neuroscientific understandings of what is occurring in the human brain, these understandings need to be relayed as a series of “processing steps” that “are explicit enough for a computational implementation” (Becker-Asano 2008:54). This approach signals an underlying assumption that such processes are capable of being rendered in computational terms. Keeping in mind the idea of primary and secondary emotions, one of the difficulties that occurs in relation to these computational processing steps (as Becker-Asano himself identifies) lies precisely with the creation of “secondary emotions.” Drawing on Damasio, Becker-Asano says that these begin with “conscious, cognitive evaluation” that “uses … and modifies aspects of the past (memories, experiences) and the future (expectations)”; are informed by “some kind of higher-order, dispositional representation,” and that are effected by “nonconscious processes” (2008:54). Implicit in Becker-Asano's approach, then, is a significant question about the cultural aspects of emotion, because this includes nonconscious processes associated with experience, memory, and expectation, all of which have social dimensions.

Earlier I noted that there was a distinction between two approaches to emotions and robots: those who work to create emotion-like responses, and those who work to create emotions (or responses that could be considered their equivalent). In his thesis, Becker-Asano (2008) is primarily interested in the problem of creating emotion-like responses: his thesis subtitle, “Affect simulation for agents with believable interactivity,” is indicative of this commitment.

EMOTION IN THE MACHINE

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

In contrast, Rosalind Picard (1997) advocates for the creation of emotions (as distinct from “emotion-like responses”) in affective computing. Picard (1997:60) acknowledges the significant difficulty involved in answering a question about whether a machine, such as a computer or robot, could really experience emotions, noting that the question of subjective feelings is inevitably linked to a consideration of consciousness. To address this question, Picard identifies five components that she argues must be present within a system to say that it “has” emotions, although she also says that it is not necessarily a precondition that all five components are always operative at any given time to say this (Picard 1997:61). The first of the five components is what she calls “emergent emotions”; emergent here referring to attributions of emotions to robots or machines, given their “observable behavior” (Picard 1997:61). Machines that “express emotions” are likely to have emotions attributed to them. Attempts to create emotion-like responses can be seen as building toward this first condition.

The second component is what Picard (1997:62) calls “fast primary emotions,” which involve a rapid physiological response to situations that require it, of which fear (related to survival) is a usual exemplar (e.g., Picard 1997:62). Drawing on Damasio, Picard (1997:62) says that the neural mechanisms involved in primary emotions involve two “communicating systems—a rough pattern recognition system [the limbic system] that acts fast, and can ‘hijack’ the cortex … and a finer pattern recognition system [the cortical system] that is slower and more precise.” Programming computers or robots so that they always display an appropriate behavior following a specific stimulus accords more with creating emotion-like responses than actual emotions; and Picard (1997:63) argues that this response is unlikely to be the way that humans and other animals operate, because even though “the fear response may be innate,” the subsequent behavior has other influences that shape it.

Picard's third component is that of “cognitively generated emotions,” involving “explicit reasoning” which then activates “limbic responses and bodily feelings” (Picard 1997:63, 64). In computer technology, most “emotions” are generated through cognitive reasoning, in which specific inputs interact with a set of rules to produce emotional states (Picard 1997:64). In computing, the Ortony, Clore, and Collins structure (OCC) is most often used to generate emotions in this manner, allowing the computer to use cognitive reasoning “to deduce that a sequence of events causes an emotion to rise” (Picard 1997:64; and see Becker-Asano 2008:39, 40–46). Although this sounds, at first blush, quite a bit like creating the appearance of emotional responses in robots, Picard argues that the OCC structure allows computers to generate emotions using the same cognitive reasoning applied to its personal events (Picard 1997:64). In other words, the relevant inputs here are those things that the computer (or robot) can be said to have “experienced.”

Picard's fourth component, “emotional experience,” involves cognitive awareness (recognizing and labeling emotional experience), physiological awareness (of that emotion's “physiological accompaniments”) and “internal subjective feeling or ‘gut feeling’” (Picard 1997:65). This accords with Damasio's distinction between emotion and feeling, in which feeling is the inward, subjective experience of an emotion. Needless to say, the latter is the most difficult to produce in a machine. At the time of writing and subsequently, Picard (1997:65; 1999:137) noted that it was not yet possible to “measure and observe” biochemical substances during “emotional arousal,” such as to be able to describe the relationship between the physiological and subjective experience in scientific terms. Yet she argues that one of the reasons for this being an important aspect of emotions for machines to have is precisely because it is “through our emotional experience [that] we gain insight into our own motivations and values” (Picard 1997:66).

Picard's final component of emotion is “body–mind interactions,” what we do know of how emotion affects “cognitive and bodily functions” and how emotions in turn are impacted by cognitive thoughts and biochemical processes (Picard 1997:67). In computers or robots, equivalent processes would be those that work with processes that emulate “human cognitive and physical functions,” including memory, learning, perception, decision making, motivation, concerns, goals, attention, prioritizing, immune system functions, regulatory mechanisms, and the physical ways emotional states are expressed (Picard 1997:70–71, 135). Once humans can effectively duplicate these, then, Picard (1999:137) argues, the machine will have mechanisms that “are essentially emotions.”

In terms of the attempts to create emotions or emotion-like responses in robots, then, a number of issues and questions arise. For the robotics question under consideration here, the development of “secondary” or “social” emotions such as shame, guilt, pride, and jealousy—which have been described as “self-conscious emotions” and as “cognition-dependent” (Tracy and Robins 2007:5)—would arguably require the robot to develop a sense of self (Leary 2007). If emotions are socially expressed and regulated, and these social understandings, expressions and expectations are shaped in patterned ways specific to different cultural contexts, then another question concerns how even an emotionally sophisticated and expressive robot could successfully negotiate cross-cultural situations in which different understandings of what we are calling here emotion, and of appropriate emotional responses, might occur.

EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

Given the role of socialization in human development, one argument that could be made is that if the social and cultural aspects of emotion are to be successfully factored into the creation of emotional responses in humanoid robots, it would require, at the very least, that robots have learning and developmental capabilities; it would require an embodied and developmental approach. Indeed, such a developmental approach is one that Vernon et al. (2010) take in their “roadmap” to developing cognition in humanoid robots. Robotic learning can be “embodied” in the sense that robots have mechanical “bodies” that can be covered in “skin” that includes “pain sensors” and “algorithms for learning” (Picard 1997:72). Although many robots have some learning algorithms, some robots, such as “CB2” (“child robot with biomimetic body,” which is being developed at Osaka University), have very sophisticated learning capabilities. CB2's human creators explicitly intend that the robot's learning would mimic the embodied development of a child, through which it “learns” how to use particular “muscles” to walk and talk. The robot is being taught to “read” and evaluate facial expressions, which it then “clusters … into basic categories, such as happiness and sadness,” and that it can “memorise” and “match” with “physical sensations” (Suzuki 2009). The further development of “child” robots such as CB2 that “learn” to walk and to speak by emulating the human developmental process may be a step toward the creation of humanoids that “learn” appropriate emotion-like responses within a particular cultural context. Similarly, the robot Nao is said to be learning emotions “using facial and body language recognition,” in which “special Nao prototypes will form attachments to those humans that teach them the most. The robots will then pick up on emotional cues and mimic the way they are used” (Saenz 2010). Notwithstanding such astounding achievements, Arbib (2005:344, 374) points out that robots lack “flesh and blood” evolutionary history, the “biological imperatives [that] have shaped the evolution of motivational and emotional systems for biological creatures.” For this reason, he questions whether the term “emotion” is therefore suitably applied in relation to such creations.

EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

What is absent from these discussions about emotions, whether about the development of something analogous to human emotion or about believable emotional responses, is a consideration of the relationship between emotions and culture. Questions about the extent to which our emotions are biologically wired and the extent to which they are culturally shaped and learned have elicited considerably different responses, partly stemming from the understanding of “emotion” drawn on by those who have sought to answer this (e.g., see Adolphs 2005; Kitayama and Markus 1994; Milton and Svašek 2005; Prinz 2004:131–159; Tracy and Robins 2007). A consideration of the role of empathy in human interaction, and the influence of culture in empathetic interactions, complicates things even further (Hollan and Throop 2008).

The ways in which humans anthropomorphize cross-culturally varies, and is connected to the ways in which humans perceive and impute emotions, intentionality, and sentience. By way of example, I consider here, briefly, the case of Japan where, as mentioned earlier, there is an enormous amount of robotic development. The place of humanoid robots in contemporary Japan clearly arises from a complex interrelationship between aspects of Japanese history and culture. Although it is not possible to explore this fully here, I briefly discuss some factors that can be understood as contributing to the comfort that many Japanese people have with robots.

Historically, the robot in Japan was preceded by karakuri, or karakuri ningyo, a Japanese term used to describe mechanical or wind-up dolls. The technological connection between karakuri and robots in Japan is one that has been explicitly made, with many commentators considering karakuri, which flourished during the Tokugawa period (between 1603 and 1868) to have been Japan's first robots, a kind of “prototype” for those proliferating today (Plath 1990:241; Masao 2001:78). Nakamura (2007:172, 173) argues that the performance of the play R.U.R. (“Rossum's Universal Robots”) in Japan in 1924 prompted a large shift in the way that the automaton in Japan was conceptualized, and that it was instrumental in bringing about a “robot boom in modern Japan.”Nakamura (2007) describes the enormous interest generated in making robots (jinzo ningen, artificial humans) that followed, their depictions in popular manga (a kind of illustrated story), and in anime (Japanese animations), particularly in the postwar era of the 1950s, when the commercial production of anime really took hold. The airing of Tetsuwan Atom in 1963 (“Mighty Atom,” known as “Astro Boy” in the West), had an extraordinary impact in Japan, and was the first among many animations about humanoid robots that would subsequently follow. Tezuka Osada first created the character of Atom for manga in 1951, at a time in which, Tezuka said, Japan had “an inferiority complex about science,” because “Japan lost the war because of science and technology” (Schodt 2007:98, 99). Schodt (2007:114) argues that in Japan, Mighty Atom came to symbolize advanced technology, in part because of the balance struck between Atom's human qualities and his “artificial intelligence and superhuman abilities.”

The connection between Japanese robotics research and manga and anime characters, particularly that of Mighty Atom, does not appear to be incidental (e.g., see Schodt 2007:117). When talking about the place of robots in contemporary Japan, many commentators, and Japanese people themselves, talk about the ways in which robots have been popularized through the mediums of manga and anime. Robotics researcher Eiji Nakano's book, titled Atomu no ashiato (Footsteps of Mighty Atom) and published in 2003, discussed why it is that humanoid robotic research has the popularity in Japan that it does, suggesting that along with “religious, cultural and historical differences between Japan and the West,” there is what he called “the ‘Atom Effect’” (Schodt 2007:118). The “Atom Effect,” along with a burgeoning robotics industry that reflects Japan's pursuit of a policy of automation rather than migration to meet the country's labor requirements (see Robertson 2007), has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to Japanese perceptions of robots today.

For many Japanese people, too, there is an additional dimension to their comfort with robots. Japanese roboticist Minoru Osada has said that because of animism in Japan, Japanese people have a different attitude toward robots—“everything has a soul therefore a robot has a soul”—and that this makes companion robots easier to accept in Japan (Ulbrick 2008). Shinto, the oldest religion in Japan, is animistic, and understands kami (a hidden, “vital” energy), to be present in “all aspects of the world and universe”: this includes natural phenomena, but also, “human creations” such as dolls and robots (Robertson 2007:377). The analogy between dolls, humans, and robots is one that the well-known Japanese animation movie Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Oshii 2004) explicitly shows, drawing all of them as kinds of animate persons.

The Japanese language distinguishes between animate and inanimate things. The verb to be, or to exist, has two forms: imas[iru] (for animate things) and arimas[aru] (for inanimate things). In his discussion concerning early conceptualizations of whether things were considered animate or inanimate among two–three-year-old Japanese- and English-speaking children, psychologist Rakison (2003:295) found that English- and Japanese-speaking children tended to divide things up in much the same way, except when it came to “ambiguous entities that lie near the [animate-object] boundary,” in which case Japanese-speaking children were more likely to class these as animate than their English-speaking counterparts. Thus, this argument is that the distinction in Japanese, concerning the verb to be, as applied to animate or inanimate objects, is likely to have an effect on how children think about “things.” One of his conclusions is that there is a strong connection between cognition, language, and ontology: that how we are in the world, how we perceive and think about the world, is strongly correlated with the language that we learn to describe it (Rakison 2003:300). Cultural ontologies are strongly embedded in language, and this impacts on cognition and thus on perception. Demography and history provide part of the reason for the proliferation of robots and their acceptance in Japan, as discussed earlier, and are connected to political, economic, and industrial developments, especially in the post-WWII period. In addition, though, it is apparent that the extent to which humans anthropomorphize nonhuman entities have inflections that are cultural as well as historical, and that this will also affect how people might empathize with or attribute emotion to nonhuman things, and hence, impact on their acceptance of them.

Damasio does not hold that all emotions are biologically based: he takes the view that some (the primary emotions) are wholly biological, while others (secondary emotions) have “biologically based parts” (Prinz 2004:134; see also Damasio 1999:50). Prinz (2004:10) describes this approach as a “hybrid theory,” one that recognizes the somatic basis of emotion along with conscious experiences (“feelings”). The theory is “hybrid” in that it accommodates aspects of two opposing perspectives on emotions: an evolutionary psychological perspective that sees emotions as evolutionary adaptations that are purely biological, and social or cultural constructionist perspectives that argue that emotions are cognitive appraisals derived from our socialization and enculturation, some of which may have embodied correlates and some of which may not (Prinz 2004:10–14). In this regard, Damasio's distinction between the “primary” and “secondary” emotions reflects aspects of evolutionary and constructionist perspectives.8

Although Adolphs (2005:15) argues for the importance of understanding the role of culture in the social emotions (such as shame, guilt, and embarrassment), suggesting that interpretation, categorization and the naming of emotions is culturally varied, he also suggests the likelihood that “emotional states themselves” are “quite invariant across cultures.” These emotional states may be “modified” in specific cultural contexts, but he maintains that the primary emotions are part of “a basic, culturally universal emotion set that is sculpted by evolution and implemented in the brain” (Adolphs 2005:15). This reflects a hybrid theory of emotions as described above. Prinz (2004) has advanced a more dialectical view about how culture contributes to the somatic experience of emotion, and I return to this later. What is important to note at this point is how hybrid theories, which pose a distinction between primary and secondary emotions (biologically innate emotions, and those that are “social”), are clearly reflected in approaches taken to the emotions by some roboticists and those involved in affective computing.

For Adolphs (2005:11), creating emotion-like responses is a behaviorist approach that, especially if credibly inculcated in a humanoid robot that is otherwise indistinguishable from a human, is destined to “violate” our “background assumptions about the robot,” which would create cognitive and emotional confusion for humans who interact with it (something that accords with Mori's 1970 theory of the “uncanny valley”). Background assumptions about a humanoid robot that can “pass” as human include expectations about the emotional and empathic aspects of its interaction. Adolphs identifies a further problem with an approach that equates behavior with emotion. Our behavior and our emotions are linked, he argues, but “only dispositionally,” such that any attempt to comprehensively match emotions with particular behaviors in specific circumstances, to program robots accordingly, is unlikely to be successful (Adolphs 2005:12).

It may be that those working on the creation of emotion-like responses in robots or computing programs are content to have these work within particular sets of parameters (that might include a specific cultural context) rather than to try to anticipate all the contingencies as Adolphs has noted. If the goal is to facilitate human–robot interaction, and a limited set of emotion-like responses is sufficient for this within that certain context, then issues such as that of cross-cultural variability in emotion-like responses may not be an issue. Given globalization and commodity reach, however, it would seem likely that ultimately many of the products developed will need to reach across cultural markets.

EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

Another element of significance to the consideration of the anthropomorphization of robots is the interesting role of empathy in human interaction, and how this might operate in human and humanoid–robot interaction. Notwithstanding some of the extraordinary developments discussed above, just how a robot would come to “learn” the social and cultural dimensions of empathic responses, even if it can be programmed to adjust its behavior “with respect to both its own as well as the interlocutor's emotional state,” to be experienced by the human interlocutor as “a more sensible and trustworthy interaction partner” (Becker-Asano et al. 2005), remains a challenging design problem.

Given the significance of empathy in communication, the creation of empathic-like responses is important for those who seek to inculcate machines with believable emotional interactivity, yet it also poses particular challenges. Unlike the “basic” emotions, empathy involves a specifically other-directed focus, one that both involves and transcends one's own “feeling,” by feeling “into the emotions of others,” such that one way of describing empathy is “feeling with/for someone” (Gieser 2008:308). Empathy involves a “subject-subject” relationship, and thus highlights intersubjectivity (Gieser 2008:308, 311). Hollan summarizes empathy as “a first-person-like, experiential understanding of another person's perspective”; an understanding that involves cognition and imagination, as well as emotion (2008:475).

Experiments that have used positron emission topography (PET scans) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the effect on the brain of thinking about acting, such as one might experience when one observes someone else executing that action, have shown that there is a significant relationship between how various parts of the brain respond when performing an action and how they respond when observing that action performed (Jeannerod 2005:158). This is relevant to the question of empathy insofar as it suggests that, neurologically speaking, the same mechanisms are involved in experiencing an action or feeling and in understanding what we see when we observe another person doing or experiencing something similar. Recent research on mirror neurons, “those that become activated merely by observing another's actions or behaviors” (Hollan 2008:480), suggest that these have a role to play in empathy and in imitation (Downey 2010; Hrdy 2009:48).

Jeannerod (2005:160) has argued that whether mirror neurons specifically simulate emotion is not specifically supported by existing scientific data, but do reveal that the amygdala is one of the main neural structures involved in recognizing, processing, and appraising emotional stimuli, in “inferring emotion from all relevant cues.” On the question of the role of mirror neurons in empathy, Hrdy (2009:52) has argued that “by themselves mirror-neurons could scarcely be sufficient to explain the development of human-caliber empathy, since other primates possess mirror neurons as well.” Nevertheless, the important fact remains that we can make a connection between “this incredible, unintentional capacity of the brain to literally ‘participate in’ or reflect and embody the experience of the other” and “the work of understanding” that we call empathy (Hollan 2008:480). The capacity to put oneself in the position of another relies not just on a shared human biology, but also on experience and imagination; and on how one understands “one's self” vis-à-vis others.

“Systemization” is one method described by el Kaliouby and colleagues (2006:232) for creating empathic responses in computers or robots. Systemization “involves sensing, pattern recognition, learning, inference, generalization, and prediction” (el Kaliouby et al. 2006:231). They note, though, that this approach poses a considerable challenge, because of the complexities and variation in the social world. Given the same situation and context, people's empathic responses may differ, they may rely on nonverbal communication, and they may not really reflect “their true feelings and thoughts” (el Kaliouby et al. 2006:232).

For those who are interested in creating emotions in robots or computers, the experiential dimension of empathy poses particular difficulty that some acknowledge may be insurmountable. In discussing this challenge, Picard (1997:80) notes that what allows humans insight into the emotional experience of others is that “we have similar brains and bodies,” whereas humans and machine have different “physiology,” a different “conscious awareness,” and hence their “emotional experiences” will not be the same. As a result, even if a machine “has” emotions, “we cannot expect a machine to really feel what we feel” (Picard 1997:80). Indeed, in a discussion about attempts to inculcate emotion with a robotics developer at the International Robotics Exhibition in Tokyo, the developer expressed the view that a robot's emotions would be different from human emotions, because of its embodiment. The logical corollary of this perspective is that if the robot had its own emotions, or something that we understand as analogous to an emotion, then it would also come to have its own “feelings,” or something that we might consider analogous to feelings.

ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED

Should it be possible to create a robot with believable human interactivity that appears to “have” emotions, or that indeed does “have” emotions, what are the implications if in fact it had no empathy?

Like emotions, empathy has social and cultural dimensions that may “inhibit” or “amplify” both the expression and the experience (Hollan 2008:480). The cultural conventions of empathic expression are likely to be dynamic and regionally variable. When is it appropriate to empathize, in what social contexts, how empathy should be expressed, and with whom or what, will necessarily involve different social and cultural expectations and understanding, linked with questions of morality and value. Indeed, researchers have made the case that empathy is integral to moral development, moral thought, and moral behavior (e.g., Eisenberg 2000; Hoffman 1991). Moral values necessarily depend on specific cultural ontologies and epistemologies, as in a Shinto ontology that extends animacy to entities that might not be considered animate in other cultural contexts. In Japan, then, getting humans to feel empathy for robots is likely to prove less difficult than it might in some other contexts. Throop (2008) has identified temporality, intentionality, discernability, and appropriateness as four dimensions that shape empathic processes and that are likely to vary cross-culturally. Among many remote-dwelling Indigenous Australians, for example, close kinship relationships, structural equivalences between siblings, and conceptual equivalences between other relational categories of person means that empathy is a significant factor in interactions and relationships between particular people but not, as necessarily, between others (see Glaskin 2012). When is empathizing with someone inappropriate, because it creates equivalences between your experience and theirs that may not be reciprocally felt? When does a failure to empathize constitute a denial of relationship? What if overt behavior is not where the embodied dimensions of empathy can really be found but, rather, in the health effects of stress created by an empathically shared sense of loss or disempowerment (Burbank 2011)? What if the rules of empathic engagement with others are not the kinds of things that can be easily articulated, let alone codified, depending on many intersecting variables? These are just some of the questions around empathy and culture that arise. These questions return us to more fundamental issues about how culture may literally be “embodied” in our emotions (as well as our feelings).

In Damasio's model of the relationship between primary and secondary emotions, which is drawn on by many robotics developers, secondary emotions are “informed” by such things as memory, perception and experience, all of which have cultural dimensions (Glaskin 2011). Like Prinz (2004), I would argue, too, that the role of culture in emotion is not confined to the so-called “secondary” or social emotions. Prinz (2004:158) argues that while “all emotions are … neural responses to patterned bodily states,” culture influences these patterned body states and hence our experience of the emotion. Culture (and experience) shape the “habits of the body,”“blends” basic emotions together and “calibrates” these in response to “sets of eliciting conditions” into specific cultural configurations that in turn influence how our body patterns detect “new classes of external elicitors” (Prinz 2004:158). In this way, what constitutes a “class” of “external elicitors” will be culturally variable. In arguing this, I do not mean to suggest that I see emotions in purely cognitive or constructionist terms. Rather, along with Prinz (2004:20), I would argue for an approach to emotion that recognizes the embodied dimensions of emotion as a “form of perception” that is “not merely perceptions of the body but also perceptions of our relations to the world.” This approach recognizes the somatic nature of emotion and the influence of culture in shaping and elaborating our embodied responses. Given that the oft-stated goal of creating emotion-like responses in robots, or even emotions, is to facilitate social interaction between humans and robots, the contribution that I hope to make in an applied sense is to raise the important issue of the relationship between culture and emotion, and culture and empathy, in social interaction.

The philosopher Gunderson (1968:109) once posed a question: “might we after all be a kind of robot? Or might certain sorts of robots after all be a kind of us?” Endeavors to replicate human attributes such as emotion and empathy in robots continue to raise questions about the boundaries between human and machine, between nature and artifice, and, as we have seen here, about the relationship between biology and culture. Brooks has argued that “we, all of us, overanthropomorphize humans, who are after all, mere machines” (Vidal 2007:917). Haraway offers another perspective: that humans in the late 20th century could already be thought of as cyborgs, “theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism” (1991:149, 151, 152). One of the critical implications of these technological innovations, then, include that even as we literally anthropomorphize technology, we are also interrogating what it means to be human, and investing in a future in which interactions with such technologies may also come to shape how we think about this. Roboticists’ reliance on Damasio's distinction between emotion and feeling, and between primary and secondary emotions, means that particular understandings of emotions, and indeed of empathy, are being advanced. In this sense, these robotic endeavors might be understood as “culture producing” in this area of thinking about emotion.9 A neuroanthropological approach to these issues reminds us that the “social” in human–robot social interaction will inevitably have a cultural component, whether this is explicitly factored into robotic development, or not.

NOTES
  • 1

    Japan has an enormous investment in robotic technology, but its postwar constitution prevents it from developing a military, and this has also prevented it from developing robots to use in combat. Following the tsunami in Japan in 2011 and the subsequent crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, robots developed for use in combat zones were used to assist in efforts to bring the situation under control. See McPherson (2011). Unfortunately, the lack of “communications infrastructure, combining wired and wireless capabilities” meant that although these robots were remote-controlled, those controlling them still worked in dangerous proximity to the radioactive and unstable reactors (Guizzo 2011).

  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

    I am grateful to an anonymous peer reviewer for this observation.

  • 5

    These attributes included that it “has a diurnal rhythm of morning, afternoon, and night”; that it has “five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture”; “can recognize light and dark”; “can feel being stroked and the amount of pressure”; “understands when it is being held”; “can recognize the direction of sound”; “recognizes its name, greetings, and praise”; “remembers interactions and adapts”; “imitates the voice of a real baby seal,” and “expresses feelings through noises, body movements, and facial expressions.” See Japan Trend Shop n.d.b.

  • 6

    Ishiguro is a well-known Japanese roboticist who famously created a robot that is almost identical to himself, called a geminoid.

  • 7

    Although Damasio also talks about “background emotions … such as well-being, malaise, calm or tension” (1999:51), Becker-Asano does not refer to these.

  • 8

    The view that facial expressions correlate with a basic emotion set, and the idea that there are six basic (innate, universal) emotions has been subject to much debate (e.g., see Kitayama and Markus 1994:7; Prinz 2004:150), with one of the criticisms being that these reflect a Western cultural and linguistic bias that does not adequately capture identifications and experiences of emotion in different cultural contexts.

  • 9

    I am indebted to Greg Downey for this observation.

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTERACTIVE ROBOTS
  4. ROBOTS AND EMOTIONS
  5. WIRED FOR EMOTION
  6. EMOTION IN THE MACHINE
  7. EMBODIMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
  8. EMOTIONS CROSS-CULTURALLY
  9. EMPATHY IN THE MACHINE
  10. ON EMPATHY, EMOTION, AND CULTURE: THE ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION OF ROBOTS
  11. REFERENCES CITED
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