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Nowadays, robots or artificial agents often only perform the specific task they have been programmed to do.

Will we be able to build an artificial intelligence that feels empathy, that understands the emotions and feelings of humans, and, based on that, act accordingly?

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  • $\begingroup$ A very related question (if not a duplicate): Could an AI feel emotions?. $\endgroup$ – nbro Apr 21 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ This could maybe be considered an extreme version of the value alignment problem. $\endgroup$ – Philip Raeisghasem Apr 21 at 19:17
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Let us describe a very simple system that does something we could label as empathyc.

A chatbot answers "I am sorry to hear that. What happened?" when we type "I feel bad", and it replies "I am glad to hear that. Fancy some music?" when we type "I feel good".

Somehow, it perceives a human emotion, and acts accordingly.

Planes fly but they do not fly as birds. Similarly, we can expect artificial empathy from an AI, not necessarily natural empathy as we feel it.

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  • $\begingroup$ So it is a duck if it quacks? $\endgroup$ – DuttaA Apr 22 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ Does it quack naturally or artificially? $\endgroup$ – Jaume Oliver Lafont Apr 22 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ Is it a bird if it flies? $\endgroup$ – Jaume Oliver Lafont Apr 22 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ Planes fly artificially and birds fly naturally. For an AI to feel empathy, it seems we need to imagine what feeling empathy artificially is. $\endgroup$ – Jaume Oliver Lafont Apr 22 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know about that but your answer has 2 open ended questions which is not the SE standard. $\endgroup$ – DuttaA Apr 22 at 6:37
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Empathy is about living and values, just as someone can be a good person, or a bad person, based on their education, culture, past experience and values, just as I who recently became a father became much more empathic about my parents.

If it's really a semi-programmed artificial intelligence that captures around you the experience with your programmers, with people, with the environment, etc., and somehow is set to learn from it, I believe you can develop some kind of “ empathy ”, but as Jaume said, it won't be“ natural ”

We have to remember that real artificial intelligence is the one that absorbs and learns, not a set of IF's and ELSE's.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't see a contradiction between learning and using a set of IF-ELSE to "classify the input properly" (from DukeZhou's answer), especially if conditions can change as more information is available. Were you thinking about predefined, static conditions? $\endgroup$ – Jaume Oliver Lafont Sep 19 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ I also see no problem, after all for presets would have to have some IF-ELSE as input, just as you said. But I was thinking of setting empathy as something "fixed" to having a predefined "forced" empathy $\endgroup$ – Edson Filho Sep 19 at 20:01
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It seems to me that empathy is based on understanding the experience of another entity:

originally Psychology. The ability to understand and appreciate another person's feelings, experience, etc.
SOURCE: OED

Using this definition, the AI would have to understand human experience. (There may be a "Chinese Room" issue in terms of whether one considers the algorithm to truly "understand". But, if it can classify the input sufficiently to produce an appropriate response, that can constitute understanding.)

The underlying problem is that the algorithm likely doesn't "feel" in the same way humans experience emotions, in that the human experience is colored by chemical response. So while the algorithm might be able to demonstrate sufficient "understanding" of a human's experience, and act in an empathetic manner, the degree of understanding may always be limited.

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