Human intelligence has always been an inspiration for artificial intelligence. For example, early work in artificial neural networks was inspired by the interconnected axons and dendrites found in biological brains.
Human intelligence also inspires the tasks AI researchers use to benchmark their machines: tasks are defined that require human intelligence, then researchers attemp to build machines that can perform those tasks. AI has progressively matched or out -performed humans in tasks such as chess, Go, and language translation.
Does this progress in AI mean machines are getting ‘smarter’, in the sense of being closer to having human intelligence? I would say ‘No’. Others would say skeptics like me just keep moving the goal post by saying “Anything a machine can do can’t be intelligence, it’s just code!”
But let’s look at human intelligence. It involves a lot more than the kind of skills demonstrated by a chess grandmaster in a championship game. Although chess mastery is a demonstration of exceptional human intelligence, this skill represents a narrow slice of the grandmaster’s intelligence, the totality of which relies on a complex cognitive architecture shared by all humans. Emotions are part of that architecture.
Emotions are often framed as the antithesis of intelligence and a human weakness. In the 1951 science fiction movie classic ‘The Thing from Another World’, a scientist, Dr. Carrington, marvels at the superiority of an alien mind: ‘No pleasure, no pain… no emotion, no heart. Our superior in every way’. Modern commentators cast our society as minds manipulated by social media, embracing conspiracy theories in the service of anger and resentment, at the expense of reason.
It is true that immense human progress has been made through science and reason, and emotions can stir up real troubles. However, it is clear that reason and emotion work hand-in-hand. Humans wouldn’t have evolved that way if emotions weren’t an essential part of our survival.
So, what role does emotion play in human intelligence? It provides essential context and motivation behind conscious analytical problem solving. It is the reason the chess grandmaster acquired her skill to begin with, and the architect of the path that led her there. The grandmaster’s skilled game play is just the tip of the iceberg. The intelligence required to create that highly specialized, analytical skill, in a brain evolved to survive in the broad context of human life, is truly awesome, and far beyond the rote learning of a deep neural network.
What role does emotion play in AI? There is a branch of AI called Emotion AI, which seeks to develop AIs that recognize and respond to human emotion. While this line of work benefits human – AI collaboration (and unfortunately, manipulation), in my view it doesn’t get at the essential role of emotions in human intelligence.
It’s not that AIs need to be able to ‘feel’ emotions to have human-like intelligence. Instead, AI problem solving would need to incorporate the immense informational context represented by human emotions. Emotions represent lifetimes of experience living embodied in the real world, incorporating a comprehensiveness and appreciation of causality and common sense that has been unmatched so far in AI.