Carnegie PhD Scholar awarded Robertson Medal 2023-24
Project Title: Can robots feel pain? Examining the possibility of non-conscious pain in robots.
Rapid technological advancement means machines are increasingly common features of our everyday lives. As technology become increasingly sophisticated we may ask questions about the nature of these machines. If artificial intelligence is possible is artificial consciousness possible? Could a robot feel pain?
To consider the possibility of robot pain it is necessary to first consider the nature of pain and what it is to undergo a pain experience. Different theories of pain give different accounts of what pains are. Representationalist theories say that what makes an experience feel the way it does is a matter of its representing a feature of the world in a certain way. For example, representing some damage as occurring in your leg. However, such theories have difficulty accounting for the actual painfulness of pain; the ouch, this sucks quality which is so familiar to us. A successful theory of pain will account for pain’s paradigmatic features whilst also explaining anomalous cases.
Having a coherent understanding of what it is to experience pain means we can then consider whether robots are the kinds of things which could undergo such an experience. It seems plausible that we could create a replica brain made of chips and diodes that can realize the physical conditions of pain. Whether this is sufficient for a pain experience will depend on whether conscious experience can be reduced to physical properties. Considering these issues in depth is necessary to answer whether robots can experience pain as we do.
Awarded: Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship
University: University of Glasgow