Saturday, December 10, 2016

Machines and emotions: theirs and mine

We often go to a restaurant with friends on Friday nights.  That and chance and a few other factors often arrange things so that my Saturday blog post is actually written on Saturday.  Usually, the post for a day is written at some leisure on the day before and sent about 6 AM or so.

A friend said yesterday that a self-driving Honda car is being designed with internal parts that simulate emotions. Anyone interested in people and their motivations has to face the business of human emotions.  As a man, I am familiar with both a natural tendency to steer away from emotions, especially deep, wrenching or overpowering ones.  As I step onto the wrestling mat in an auditorium, half filled with fans who hope to see me defeated and pseudo-killed by my opponent and half filled with fans who are screaming for me to hold my opponent's shoulder blades against the mat to be accorded "victory" for my side, I keep my attention on him and what I can do to "win".  I don't want to break into tears of either fear and humiliation or pride and gratitude.

That sort of desire to plan, rapidly estimate what I can do and what he is doing can lead to a disdain for emotions as counterproductive and impediments to status and happiness.  But, as I age, I am aware of the value and joy of feelings.  It's true that men are often called to feel loyalty to their team, their group, their nation but it takes something like the story of Phineas Gage, who suffered a weird injury that hurt his emotion center in his brain and found that he could not make decisions to emphasize the interplay of emotions, motivation and thought.  We can say that a wooden or emotion-free life would be robotic and joyless.  Evolution has given us fear and joy and a whole range of positive and negative emotions and we are smart to be at home with them, whether they seem supportive or not.  Artificial intelligence can be expected to develop and use emotions, I think.

My car iPod dropped my Great Course on the fundamentals of music and suddenly presented me with all 500+ albums in alphabetical order.  One, "The Great Sentimental Age" features the Gregg Smith singers and songs from Stephen Foster's time (1830's and on).  When I am driving along and a violin plays extremely well-made music to elicit deep sorrow over Willie having gone to war, I may get teary.  At my age, I can damn well get teary if I want.  I admit that I can't see as well then so I keep the emotion damped (no pun planned).  I wasn't planning on getting to the grocery store in an all-weepy state.  If you see me there wiping my eyes, it may be because of Jeannie with the light brown hair and how overpoweringly beautiful she is, even though I have never seen her.  Thanks, iPod

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