German researchers are working on developing an artificial nervous system that will function as a way for robots to feel pain. Perhaps in future years, these robots will provide safer ways to blow of steam to a nation infamous for scapegoating.
The scientists hope to base the pseudo nervous system on “insights from human pain research.” They’ve tested their prototypes by fitting a robotic arm with a fingertip sensor that can detect pressure and temperature.
The researchers hail from Leibniz University in Hannover and seek to develop a system that would enable robots to “be able to detect and classify unforeseen physical states and disturbances, rate the potential damage they may cause to it and initiate appropriate countermeasures, i.e. reflexes.”
Just as human neurons transmit pain and yield a response, artificial nervous systems will pass information that can be sorted into light, moderate or severe pain.
According to researcher Johannes Kuehn, “Pain is a system that protects us. When we move away from the source of pain, it helps us not get hurt.”
A robot that has been successfully programmed to feel pain will gain the ability to protect itself, thus keeping its own expensive software and hardware better intact. This could be especially helpful with autonomous cars and any other electronic device that is expected to maneuver through constantly changing environments in which it is unfamiliar; to program in pain is to program in caution, and that can be the difference between maintaining and losing equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Getting robots to learn is one of the most challenging things but is fundamental because it will make them more intelligent,” stated Cambridge University Professor Fumiya Iida. Iida believes that teaching robots about a whole range of stimulus could be crucial to taking the next step in developing electronics to work alongside humans.
“Learning is all about trial and error. When a child learns that falling over causes pain, it then learns to do it with more skill.”
Whether Professor Fumiya Iida has ever spent more than three minutes in the presence of a child remains unknown. That said, computers are rapidly becoming the new “dogs” and will perhaps one day be capable of being the new “kids.”
Deep learning has begun to make these aspirations a reality. With machine learning, computers can learn how to define categories for themselves given huge amounts of data to differentiate between instead of it being necessary to code them to recognize something specific that likely doesn’t occur as such in real life. Computers running off these kinds of systems are currently being used for speech recognition, facial recognition, and even to diagnose plant diseases around the world via app.
Whether computers that can feel pain will help to improve human life is not entirely clear; if the technology is used for robot soldiers for the purpose of making it possible for the soldiers to look out for their own well being, that will perhaps be detrimental to the development of human society.