Read my lips: truly empathic robots will be a long time coming

The Japanese robot Pepper, made by Aldebaran Robotics, has sparked interest regarding the potential of robots to become companions. According to its makers, Pepper can recognise emotions from your facial expressions, words and body gestures, and adjust its behaviour in response. This heralds a new era in the development of sociable artificial intelligence (AI). But it raises the inevitable question as to whether AI is ever likely to be able to understand and respond to the experiences of humans in a genuine manner, i.e. have empathy. In their shoes In order to answer this question, it is important to consider how humans experience empathy. In general, there seem to be two kinds. The first is “cognitive” empathy, or the ability to judge what another person might be thinking, or to…


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