Picard, Affective Computing, Introduction

In the Introduction to Affective Computing (1997), Picard overviews and sets up her argument for the book, stating that it “proposes that we give computers the ability to recognize, express, and in some cases, ‘have’ emotions” (p. 1). She proposes this because, she contends (after raising and critiquing various points that might be made against such a proposal), “[a]fter nearly a half century of research … computer scientists have not succeeded in constructing a machine that can reason intelligently about difficult problems or that can interact intelligently with people” (p. 1). Picard further sketches the outlines of the book as “lay[ing] a foundation and construct[ing] a framework for what I call ‘affective computing,’ computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotions” (p. 3).

Much of the rest of the Introduction is devoted to Picard making the case for (simply put) emotional intelligence—both as a vital element in human cognitive functioning (including decision-making, a subject she spends some time on here) and as a form of intelligence we should strive to create for and in computers. “[C]omputers,” she argues, “if they are to be truly effective at decision making, will have to have emotions or emotion-like mechanisms working in concert with their rule-based systems” (p. 12).

One of the things that struck me about Picard’s argument in the Introduction is this phrase, “emotion-like mechanisms.” At this—early—point in her book, I can’t decide whether her offering it is a compromised position (from computers having “real” emotions or emotional capabilities) or not, whether it seems to come somewhat too soon or somewhat too late in her argument, even though it’s only a dozen pages into the book.

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