The Emotional Computer

John K Clark (
Wed, 2 Apr 1997 22:52:43 -0800 (PST)


Andrea Gallagher <> On April 2 1997 wrote:

>we had made computers that could deal with all the very difficult
>"thinking" of academics and scientist but that couldn't do what a
>18month-old could

That tells me that our naive notions about what is easy and what is difficult
are wrong. Today's computers don't have much trouble with higher math but
with more mundane things like pattern recognition, manual dexterity and that
grab bag of skills and knowledge we call common sense. Only recently has much
progress been made. One surprising thing computer science has taught us is
that an enormous about of brain -power is needed to perform an apparently
simple task like moping a floor. How do I pick up the mop? Is that dirt on
the floor or is it a shadow? Should I move that obstacle or go around it?
How long should I try to get rid of that stain before I give up?

These problems don't seem hard to us because we're very good at them. Natural
selection gave a big advantage to those who were good at spotting the pattern
of a saber toothed tiger hiding in the bushes, but no advantage to those who
were good at solving differential equations. It is not mere rhetoric to say
that in an absolute sense a janitor has a more intellectually challenging job
than a professor of mathematics.

>it could be that feeling requires far more computational power than
>thinking or seeing.

I don't see how. Even with his tiny brain a rat can feel, and I can find no
evidence that his emotions are inferior to ours, even though our brain is a
thousand times larger. I can find lots of evidence that a rat's thinking is
inferior to ours.

John K Clark

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