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Monday, October 18, 2021

Artificial Pain May Induce Empathy, Morality, and Ethics in the Conscious Mind of Robots

M. Asada
Philosophies 2019, 4(3), 38


In this paper, a working hypothesis is proposed that a nervous system for pain sensation is a key component for shaping the conscious minds of robots (artificial systems). In this article, this hypothesis is argued from several viewpoints towards its verification. A developmental process of empathy, morality, and ethics based on the mirror neuron system (MNS) that promotes the emergence of the concept of self (and others) scaffolds the emergence of artificial minds. Firstly, an outline of the ideological background on issues of the mind in a broad sense is shown, followed by the limitation of the current progress of artificial intelligence (AI), focusing on deep learning. Next, artificial pain is introduced, along with its architectures in the early stage of self-inflicted experiences of pain, and later, in the sharing stage of the pain between self and others. Then, cognitive developmental robotics (CDR) is revisited for two important concepts—physical embodiment and social interaction, both of which help to shape conscious minds. Following the working hypothesis, existing studies of CDR are briefly introduced and missing issues are indicated. Finally, the issue of how robots (artificial systems) could be moral agents is addressed.


To tackle the issue of consciousness, this study attempted to represent it as a phenomenon of the developmental process of artificial empathy for pain and moral behavior generation. The conceptual model for the former is given by, while the latter is now a story of fantasy. If a robot is regarded as a moral being that is capable of exhibiting moral behavior with others, is it deserving of receiving moral behavior from them? If so, can we agree that such robots have conscious minds? This is an issue of ethics towards robots, and is also related to the legal system. Can we ask such robots to accept a sort of responsibility for any accident they commit? If so, how? These issues arise when we introduce robots who are qualified as a moral being with conscious minds into our society.

Before these issues can be considered, there are so many technical issues to address. Among them, the following should be addressed intensively.
  1. Associate the sensory discrimination of pain with the affective and motivational responses to pain (the construction of the pain matrix and memory dynamics).
  2. Recall the experience when a painful situation of others is observed.
  3. Generate appropriate behavior to reduce the pain.