Philip Gerrans

Professor, Department of Philosophy, The University of Adelaide, Australia

Keynote topic

Artificial intelligence virtual emotion and real feelings

Keynote abstract

As human experience becomes increasingly mediated by virtual and artificial entities, an interesting question arises about the experience, if any, of those entities. Avatars, robot pets, companions and carers, virtual psychiatrists and counsellors will evoke experiences in us. But will they have experiences? And if not, what is the nature of our response? Can we grieve the loss of an avatar or be moved by the sympathetic words of a virtual companion who is, ultimately nothing more than changes in voltage gradient in a circuit board? Famously Daniel Dennett suggested that this is an idle question. Our own experience is a “user illusion” generated by changes in voltage gradient across ion channels. So why distinguish between real and illusory experiences on the basis of implementation substrate? These questions should matter to designers of these systems, but AI and robotics have paid surprisingly little attention to crucial aspects of emotion revealed by its neuroscientific investigation. This keynote discusses some of that research and its consequences for an AI of emotional experience.

Speaker profile

Educated at Oxford University and Australian National University, Professor Philip Gerrans is a philosopher of cognitive neuroscience. His main research interest is the use of psychological disorder to study the mind. He has written on developmental disorders (autism and Williams syndrome), cognitive neuropsychiatry, moral psychopathologies (such as psychopathology) and the emotions as well as a large monograph and associated series of papers on delusion and disorders of rationality. He is an Associate of the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences where he collaborates with philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists. Currently he is completing a project on the relationship between emotional processing and self-representation with an emphasis on psychiatric disorders. He and Dr Chris Letheby have just commenced a project on psychedelic experience, self-representation and self-awareness. In all these cases his focus is on the role of computational models linking experience to neural processing.

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