The Terminator paradox

How neuroscience can help us understand empathy and the fear of Artificial Intelligence — Chapter 4 — Understanding Empathy


Jair Ribeiro

3 years ago | 29 min read

I want to share one of my favorite chapters of my new ebook entitled “The Terminator paradox — How neuroscience can help us understand empathy and the fear of Artificial Intelligence,” co-written with my dear friend and Ph.D. in Neuroscience Mariana Verzaro.

The book is the results of several engaging conversations about concepts and possible approaches to building Empathy in AI.

It is a fascinating thought leadership exercise with some interesting technological, social and philosophical views regarding Artificial Intelligence from the neuroscientific point of view.

Enjoy the reading!

Chapter 4 — Understanding Empathy

I have been in touch with several researchers and leaders in AI for a long time discussing about how important empathy is to its overall impact and evolution.

Technologists and researchers have contributed to these conversations about how people view, interact with, and perceive others and interpret the world, including voice recognition, adaptive platforms, and dynamic technologies.

To create an artificial intelligence where people could genuinely “feel” empathetic, I believe we will need to consider how our human brains work, how personalities work, and how empathy factors affect our technology.

Teaching the most accurate statistical classifiers does not get us all the job done. Individuals will have ways of expressing emotions, body language, and customs that will significantly affect the overall impressions.

Think about what you would have to do if you had to perform this task if you can. We could go as far as to teach it how to identify distinct levels of communication (at which point it could accurately fix everyone’s cognitive state).

However, suppose we are hoping to find out how to recognize emotions. In that case, emotions are far more complicated, and there are no “best” or “better” ones above the rest. It is not as simple as telling when someone is angry, alerting one to it by their manner, or sensing it by their appearance.

Exploring the concepts of complexity, she also addresses issues like feeling and learning. Mariana will dig deep into these concepts, and many others, in this chapter, in this chapter specifically.

From a neuroscientific point of view, Mariana will help us understand, during this whole chapter, what empathy is, how it is formed in the brain, and which ways it may change. It can help us understand how it can be applied to technology.

What is Empathy?

Before we talk about empathy, we need to talk about perception, emotion, and learning. These are all exciting topics well studied in the neuroscience field. Still, we need to understand that this field is very new compared to other fields in science, which means that we are still learning a lot about how and why we do the things we do, and this is the most beautiful thing about science. It is all about questioning, arguing, analyzing, experimenting, being wrong, and sometimes right.

The brain is a network of more or less than 100 billion neurons, working simultaneously. That is an exciting story. A Brazilian neuroscientist called Suzana Herculano made a “soup” with a human brain cortex and discovered that the brain has 85 billion neurons. Yes, that is the exact number. She also has an exciting theory that says that our intelligence evolved due to the discovery of fire. Before we discover fire, we had to digest much raw meat, and that for the brain was much work. Our brain had to spend most of its awake state just working on the digestion of food. Therefore, according to the theory, after discovering fire, we started to cook our food, which was a key point for our brains and intelligence evolution.

When we talk about science, we need to understand that science usually divides functions because it facilitates studies and analyses. When you study neuroscience, you study how the brain reacts to a specific function, and. Then see which specific area is highlighting. This is particularly important to understand the distinct functions of the brain, but that is not how it works daily. Yes, we have different networks for contrasting functions, but these networks talk to each other all the time. There is not a separate emotional entity that we can control whenever we want to.


To understand how emotions work in the brain, the first and most important thing we need to know is that emotions are not a separate system. Common sense says that we have a rational mind and an emotional mind; there is even a lot of propaganda about this; many people make money selling emotional brain training. I do not want to be spoiling believes here, but unfortunately, that is not how the brain works.

Descartes Error, a marvelous book by Antonio Damasio, illustrates that, ideally, other authors like Joseph Ledoux and Vilayanur S. Ramachandram also have great studies about this topic.

In neuronal terms, we can say sensory systems; our five senses receive information. They are how we experience things like colors, shapes, smells, and even space and time. It is essential to understand that our brain cells receive and decode the information in the environment.

The information itself is different from the way we perceive them. For example, there are no colors in our environment; there is just a spectrum of light. The same thing happens with sounds; there is just the vibration in the air. It is our brain that perceives those features in that way and gives them meaning.

We can say that the brain is a kind of photoshop that edits all the information in the environment. That is how perceptions are formed; they construct our brain based on all stimuli that we receive from the world. The more we learn and know, the more these perceptions change and adapt.

Evolution shaped us not to see reality as it is but instead to match our constructions with the truth. It is like an interface, but it does not stand for the world as it is. Sensory data does not exist. That is just the way we perceive things.

Our perception activates emotional-processing circuits, which evaluate the meaning of the stimulus input and start specific emotional responses by triggering output circuits. It is an independent and automatic process, not a conscious one.

First, an emotional reaction occurs; after, a feeling appears as we become aware that our brain has figured out that something important is present and reacts. As Joseph Ledoux states: “Emotions are the process by which the brain determines or computes the value of the stimulus.”

Emotions are not separate from thought; they are created in our nervous systems by exact mechanisms. We do things to cope with or capitalize on the event, causing us to be emotionally aroused. Our emotions are like a program that functions to make us concretize actions, and they motivate us for good and bad. The action occurs when emotions motivate us to do things.

Many studies were done to understand how emotion works in the brain. The work of William James is very remarkable, which stated that emotions resulted from how we perceive stimuli in the brain. The problem with studying emotions is that we cannot know how animals feel and have many studies with humans. There is always a problem of knowing the authenticity of what someone feels because feelings are very subjective. Most of the studies we have are more about emotional behavior rather than the feeling per se.

Asking someone how they feel during an experiment is complicated because what we remember about an emotional experience differs from what we felt; emotions change memory, and memory changes emotions. Simple, isn’t it?

Let me give you an example, think about your last relationship that did not work. When you think about it, you might feel a little sad and nostalgic about it, and you might miss it because usually, the memories that stay are the better ones. You forget about all those horrible days where you wished to break up, those days when that person treated you wrong, and it seems like all those bad memories vanished. Researchers call this fading effect bias. Can you now understand how difficult it is to study emotions? It is complicated. Daniel Kahneman made many studies about this.

I will talk about all the discoveries found about our “emotional brain.” Still, there are some things to understand before that. The first is that we can have an emotional response independent of what we are feeling internally; one example of this is when we get angry and fight with someone for whatever reason.

Then, we realize that we were only hungry. Studies show that judges give the worst sentences to defendants when it is closer to lunch hours than in other hours of the day. Fundamental processes control emotional responses, and that is why these things happen.

The second thing to understand is that not every act that looks emotional is coexisting with a feeling. Let us not forget the subjectivity!

But do not worry; not everything is lost, as we can study how a brain receives and understands an external stimulus with our five senses. We can also study how our brain processes the emotional significance of stimuli.

As I stated above, emotions happen after we act. Let us say you are driving your car, and then a tree falls above it from nowhere. First, you react (you accelerate or stop the car) and only after realizing your heart is beating faster.

The Emotional Circuit

We now know that emotions are governed by our limbic system, which is the oldest part of the brain in terms of evolution. It is a primitive one. Reptiles have a limbic system. That is why many experts used to call the limbic system the reptilian brain. Emotions are essential for our survival! Our fears help us just as much as our compassion does. But keep in mind that everything interacts with everything all the time.

So, in this brain equation, we also must add the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that has evolved for last, which means that it is new in terms of evolution and is human (I question that); other primates also have frontal cortex but not as evolved as in homo sapiens.

Our species is the part of the brain that develops after we are born. It is fully developed after puberty, around 25 years old. It is also the part of the brain that corresponds to our moral judgment, future planning, and decision-making, to name a few of its features. That explains why teenagers take more risks in their lives, and their brain is not formed yet.

The frontal cortex is always “talking” with the limbic system. It helps to control and understand our emotions, make better decisions, evaluate situations, and plan. The only thing is that it is not as fast as our limbic system, so sometimes, when we pass through stressful situations where we need to make rapid decisions, the limbic system will take power.


What about Empathy? When we talk about empathy, we need to also add to this equation the learning process. Learning is the process of getting new or changing existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences. Learning is influenced by culture, the society we live in, and experiences.

Human beings can learn in diverse ways. Sometimes, we learn by simply seeing the world, as when we learn the layout of a new city, sometimes we learn by relating to other people. Another way to learn is to set specific goals, such as for children who learn to use toys by trial and error.

The brain learns and memorizes all successful actions we did in the past and the non-successful ones. Even though our environment can influence our learning, we are born with the innate ability to recognize basic emotions. All these processes work side by side when we feel empathy.

Empathy is the ability to perceive or feel what another person feels from within the frame of reference of the other person, i.e., the ability to put himself in the position of another. This ability is essential and has evolved to help us survive as a species, to define social structures. First, like every mammal, we need to be sensitive to the needs of our offspring. Second, our species depends on cooperation, which means that we do better if healthy, capable group mates surround us. Taking care of them is just a matter of enlightened self-interest. 1

Many studies showed how empathy is a feature in nature beyond homo sapiens and primates in the last years. There is an extensive line of empathy in evolutionary history. There are many examples in all mammals, and I am sure that everyone who has a dog knows what I am talking about.

Many animals show empathetic behavior in nature, not only with mimic behavior but also with emotional contagion. They share their pain and proactively look to lessen the distress of another individual. Consolation behavior is viewed on the behavior of wolves, dogs, elephants, voles, and corvids. Some studies show that ants “rescue” other ants in some situations. We can also see empathy in the schooling behavior of fish, flocking and mobbing behavior of birds, chickens, and the herding behavior of mammals.

How does empathy work in the human brain?

Our ability for empathy is hardwired into our brains thanks to cells in the brain called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons were discovered in 1994 by the Italians Neuroscientists Giacomo Rizzolatti, Leonardo Fogassi and Vittorio Gallese. They were studying the brain of the Rhesus monkey.

They intended to know how the Rhesus brain responded to motor actions; during the study, they realized that the brain responded when the monkey was doing action and when the monkey saw the experimenter act. Even though the monkey was not performing any action, the same pre-motor brain regions were activated.

This was a huge discovery and changed all we knew about neuroscience at that time. The findings show that mirror neurons are an independent system that works even if we do not know what we realize.

That means that this system does not depend on memory. It works even when we see something we never saw before. And not only that, but we can also predict the intention of the act we are viewing. For example, if we see someone taking a fork on a table filled with food, we can predict that this person will eat. It is like an automatic transfer.

This system gives us the ability to understand external circumstances, generate feelings of solidarity, and the desire to share our subjective experiences. When you see someone pulling their hand, you move your hand, which is an unconscious process. We resonate with what the other is doing. If you see a baby crying, you will feel pain as it was your pain. This resonance is powerful. Empathy has the cognitive competence of understanding the cause of someone’s pain.

The mirror neuron system forms a triad: the visual, auditory, and visual components. Recent studies have revealed that a much larger number of regions have mirror neuron properties, thus making this system much broader than it is typically described and known.

The trimodal system works together to guarantee an adequate perception of the environment in which we live. Studies have shown that if one of its components is depressed, for example, in deaf children, mirror neurons first try to reorganize themselves. If this is not possible, it enters a deficit in its functions.

Studies also show that the anterior cingulate cortex is a structure that is particularly important for feeling empathy for someone. It processes the interoceptive information from internal experiences and external ones. It is essential and relevant to transform our gut feelings into intuition. It Responds to and monitors conflicts and handles giving meaning to pain. If you see someone crying, someone injured or tortured, and your anterior cingulate cortex will activate. Other brain regions involved are the insula and amygdala; the last ones are all part of the limbic system.

Rizzolatti proposed that we understand the world around us, mapping sounds, visions, and reading. With this mapping, we simulate situations as if we were executing them ourselves. Behavioral studies document that the observation and execution of human actions are intricately linked during childhood.

The interesting about this ability is that sometimes we emphasize someone’s pain or joy, and sometimes we feel the pain or joy as it was ours. There are differences. When you sympathize with other’s feelings, you can support the other, but when you feel what they are feeling, you act for their benefit. We call that compassion.

The question that arises here is that if you are helping someone, are you helping them because of their pain or yours?

This ability to understand the world around us and put us in situations that belong to the reality of others fits into the so-called Theory of Mind.2

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute and represent, in oneself and others, independent mental states — beliefs, intentions, desires, knowledge, etc. — and understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions distinct from their own. To understand what another person thinks and how he will behave, we must have someone else’s perspective.

Such a theory further states that we can predict the events and the mental state of others. It is believed that we get emotional when we see a movie, soap opera, or theater because we put ourselves in the place of the characters, even though they know that they are fictional.

Another general characteristic is to imitate, even without conscience, the behaviors of individuals in our social environment, such as touching their hair, crying, laughing, speaking in a higher tone, etc. We are all mirror the people we spend more time with, which is the basis to live in society. Imitation serves as a socio-emotional mechanism, attributing affective and communicative values.

Now, there is a catch. With the brain, there is always a catch. In the book Behave of Robert M. Sapolsky, he emphasizes that yes, we are an empathic species but only about “us.” When it is about “them,” then it is another question.

So, what is this “us” that I am talking about? We are part of the group, our friends, colleagues, family, society, etc. Yes, we are hired to understand the pain of others, but only when these others are like us. That is why we see so many wars and famine in the world. We divide too much.

Studies show that oxytocin, “the love hormone,” can activate violent behavior when defending the ones we love. We love and care for our group, but science shows empathy will not work for other groups.

We are all good and evil, depending on the situation. I do not believe that there are only good or only bad people. Through my studies and from my own experience, I can see a spectrum between goodness and evil. Each one of us permeates this spectrum throughout our lives.

Sometimes we are worse, and sometimes we are better. Yes, I realize that there are people worse than excellent and vice versa. Still, I also realize that even people considered flawed, terrible as serial killers can perform some act of kindness at some point.

Regardless of whether we are good or bad and, without going into deeper issues like the ego, id, and childhood traumas, everyone, at some point, has already thought of getting revenge on someone. Be it the telephone company, the neighbor under renovation, or someone who hurt us. The fact is that this feeling will fill our lives at some point. But what does neuroscience say about revenge?

Recent studies report that oxytocin; yes, oxytocin, that hormone in love, is more triggered in the brain during conflicts between groups and influences the prefrontal cortex, associated with decision making, generating feelings of companionship within the group, but vindictive actions concerning the rival group.

As expected, the increase in oxytocin leads to greater empathy and companionship. However, here comes the catch. Indeed, oxytocin facilitates forming a bond between mother and child, monogamy between partners, handles reducing anxiety and stress, and generates an increase in reliability and generosity between people, but always within the same group.

When dealing with other groups, the increase in this hormone causes ethnocentrism and even xenophobia. Well, it seems that our love hormone is not that loving.

And it is precisely for this reason that many times in life, we “take the pain” of those we love or that cause we believe in even though we have never conflicted with the other group, person, or cause in question.

Science and our lives depend a lot on context. A police officer who shoots a bad guy is good, but he is also murdering someone, and murdering someone is terrible. We have excellent tools that help us better understand our behaviors. This is essential to seek solutions that make us evolve, grow, and even combat behaviors that harm us. However, it is necessary to understand that science should never go alone.

We are a combination of cultural, genetic, and environmental factors. Our brains are extraordinarily complex, so I am happy with studies like this because not everything is clear. Still, every day we can, thanks to science, better understand our shares’ whys.

So, how did you react when someone talked to you about his or her life, being a little upset or broken. Was your answer “I’m sorry, life is hard and sometimes or “it is awful, but that’s the way it goes”? Sorry to say, but this sympathetic response made things worst in that case. You have not been empathetic.

Most of the time, we say, “I’m sorry to hear that,” when someone expresses terrible news about their lives.

Did you ever stop to think about if “I’m sorry to hear that” could be considered a sympathetic or empathetic answer?

In general, this kind of answer is a sympathetic statement that means that you understand. To be honest, do not offer any further support to that person — end of the conversation.

An honest empathetic answer would express more interest and understanding, supplying awareness and sharing feelings and thoughts.

Knowing the 3 Different Types of Empathy

In my talk with Jair, we discussed three kinds of empathy. Psychologists have defined three distinct types of empathy. Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman have found three components of Empathy: Cognitive, Emotional, and compassionate empathy.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is being able to position yourself and see your experience in someone else’s location. It simply knows how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Especially in negotiations, for example, or managers, it is a valuable skill.

It helps you to put yourself in the shoes of someone else without intervening in their feelings. However, it does not fit with empathy as ‘feeling with,’ being a much more rational and logical process. Emotions are not involved in this kind of empathy.

Effectively, cognitive empathy is ‘empathy by the thought,’ rather than by feeling. Cognitive empathy makes us better communicators because it helps us relay information that best reaches other people.3

We can show cognitive empathy without having any fellow feeling or sympathy with it. Most of us would understand this fellow feeling to be a crucial part of empathy.

  • Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy is when you feel the other person’s emotions alongside them as if you had ‘caught’ the feelings. It is when you feel their emotions physically. This kind of empathy can also extend to physical sensations. It makes us look inward to find something like us and share the same emotions.

Emotional empathy is also known as ‘personal distress’ or ‘emotional contagion.’ This is closer to the collective understanding of the word ‘empathy’ but more emotional.4

Emotional empathy is the first type of empathy that many of us feel like children. When a mother smiles at her baby, it can be seen, and the baby ‘catches’ her emotion and smiles back. Less happily, a baby will often start to cry if he or she hears another baby crying.

  • Compassionate Empathy

Finally, compassionate empathy is what we usually understand by empathy: feeling someone’s pain and helping. Not only do we understand the person, but we spontaneously are moved to do something to help them.

The name compassionate empathy is consistent with what we usually understand by compassion. Like sympathy, compassion is about feeling concern for someone, but with an additional action to mitigate the problem.

Compassionate empathy is the type of empathy that is usually most proper. It can be found, for example, in people working in social sector jobs as they need to connect to others, understand their emotional state, and plan the following steps to take.5

In general, people who need our empathy do not just need us to understand. They certainly do not need us just to feel their pain or, worse, to burst into tears alongside them. They need us to understand and sympathize with what they are going through and, crucially, either take or help resolve the problem: compassionate empathy.

I particularly disagree with this neat division of empathy into three types, preferring a more adaptive approach. I know that dividing things can make them easy to understand. Still, I would not divide empathy into three distinct types. For me, it depends on how much one is involved with the situation. For me, this division might complicate a little bit.

I would say you can sympathize, be empathic or be compassionate in some situations. In my understanding to sympathize with something is not being empathetic with it. Just because you understand and know what is going on in that situation with that person or animal does not mean you care about it.

When you feel what the other person is feeling, you care about it. You might choose not to do act as regards it, but you care. Empathy, for me, relates to emotions. If you have empathy, you have feelings.

As a child, I thought everyone was sensitive like me. It was so typical for me to feel profound that it did not even enter my head that different people could.

It did not take long for me to realize that there are indeed people with zero sensitivity, by the way; it did not take long to realize that this is the tendency of the vast majority.

There are indeed several levels of sensitivity, at an extreme level of this spectrum, a person with the total absence of sensitivity is considered a psychopath (I will explain it better in another text, but click here to learn more), there are even books that teach a person to be “psychopath” to obtain more achievements (The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton; The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene; among others); on the other hand, a more sensitive person may have a better understanding of an event and resolve it in a way that there is no harm to either side.

Science proves that every psychological result is influenced by genetic differences, the environment, and experiences.

To better understand these differences, some scientists like Abigail Marsh, author of The Fear Factor, studied the brains of altruistic people (they studied people who donated a kidney to a stranger).

Many studies (see reference at the end of the text) show that psychopathic people have a dysfunction of the amygdala (the amygdala is part of the limbic system of the brain and handles recognizing fear, read more here); therefore, they cannot generate a response to fear, nor to identify other people’s fear. They cannot empathize with that.

The brain of altruistic people is the opposite, and their tonsils are larger and more responsive. Highly altruistic people are good at recognizing other people’s fear, which can be why they are motivated to help.

So far, so good. There is no right or wrong in nature, and there are trends, brain differences, and adaptations. There is common sense that a less sensitive person can obtain more material achievements and deal better with other people in the culture we live in.

This is a fundamental characteristic of life itself. I feel the space of the other so that I can grow here, and you can grow there. This way, we can all grow. Empathy and compassion are the building blocks of evolution. Without them, life would not last. It is a feature of nature. That is how all life works. It is a network where it needs to understand the needs of the other to be in harmony and grow.

That explains a little, but the real thing is that it is not easy to deal with sensitivity in a world that asks you for the opposite all the time.

There were so many times that I blamed myself and hated myself for being sensible that it would be impossible to list. One day I decided to stop fighting and decided to surrender to it.

Experiencing all these emotions made me understand that they are not so different from rational thinking. They have a different texture. It is beautiful to feel beautiful music at the bottom of your being. It is also wonderful to feel pain when you see a fallen tree in the middle of the street. It means that I can do something about it. It means that I have a greater, more profound, primitive understanding.

Most of the time, we try to meet our needs, real or imagined. We think in the short term, we do not seek help and end up offering less than we would like, especially when it comes to putting aside destructive behaviors, finishing what we started, and prioritizing what is essential. Anyway, dedicate yourself to what is most important in our lives. Ourselves.

Genuine compassion starts by taking care of yourself first because we want to see the other well when we are well, and then everything changes. And not only that, we become a mirror to other people as well.

It is essential to understand that everything happens inside us. I am talking inside the brain. Everything you see, hear, talk, smell, feel happens inside you, not outside. Hence, it is necessary to take care of everything that happens inside us, of our brain. And our brain needs good nutrition, exercise, studies, and meditation.

The more peaceful we are with ourselves, the more we will be genuinely available to the other, without demanding anything in return for our dedication, or mixing our feelings and desires with those of others, making projections and demands, even if they are not conscious or clearly expressed.

“The practice of self-care is not an exercise in solitude, but a real social practice.” Michel Foucault

Why do we need Empathy in A.I.?

Empathy allows us to understand one another on a deeper level, creating more meaningful relationships.6 It should be exercised in every relationship that we have, especially in business relationships. Empathy is one of the essential qualities one should have in the business world. It allows one to connect better with coworkers and team members.

As we can see in all studies, emotions, and empathy are the basis for making the best decisions in life. That is how we grow and evolve as species. Of course, many other processes are essential. Still, it is essential to build an A.I. that understands and flows just the way we do with our emotions, and empathy is how to build that. The more we understand the mechanism of empathy, the more we can build better machines.

According to the latest studies, A.i can already read our brains and form an image for what we are thinking. That is very incredible. It is not 100% but is pretty accurate, and that is very amazing. A.I. can also learn from itself, as we have seen with Alpha Go in machine learning.

A.i. can also make an individual print of our brains and read our I.Q., diagnose a disease, and drive our car for us. Even a supercomputer can simulate 77,000 neurons in the brain in real-time, using tens of thousands of virtual neurons. It looks like A.i knows more about us than we do, but we are still far away from building an A.I. like us.

We already have A.I.’s that make cancer diagnostics better than humans; they analyze many algorithms and, based on the patient's history, give a precise diagnosis, but we need to understand that life is not only about algorithms. We are not only numbers and historical memories, and we are also emotions, and emotions, unbelievably, motivate us.

Instead, you are conscious about it or not; that is the way we are. We need to build an A. I can also understand what is not being said, what is not described on that person’s medical history or medical exams; that is the only way to have an efficient A.I.

The challenge of building Empathetic AI

I do not think we are far away from having an A. I like the movie minority report, which prevents crimes from happening. The idea, even though controversial, is causing many studies to show that we are conscious of action after this action happens in the brain.

How could we enhance the empathy level of Artificial Intelligence?

The more we understand emotions, the more we can build an A.I. capable of fundamental human interactions. Emotions are significant for survival and evolution.

We know computers have more speed and power than our neurons, but we are much more versatile; our cognition is much more flexible and adaptable than a computer. We also know that a human can learn a task, which will lead them to learn other tasks. A computer cannot do that.

Therefore, computers have a remarkable ability to run simulations and see a better solution for a problem. We humans, therefore, do not need many learning examples. We can learn from one example that you can teach color to a child, and the child will find that color everywhere.

One shared approach might be to make the A.I. understandable and predictable. And that is not that hard. If we get historical and biological data, it is easier to build a very precise and predictable A.I. It is necessary to build a system that works like our sympathetic system. This neuronal network would do the same circuit that the empathy circuit does. The difficulty is to do that with math and not with cells. If one day we build that, then the sky is the limit.

When a human makes a mistake, you can ask for the reasons behind it, and either there is a good explanation or not, you can forgive because you understand — or because you could have made the same mistake -, or because it is just a random mistake, so you tell yourself it happens. You are human, so you understand. In A.I, the statistical models used and cannot explain why the A.I. is wrong or why it is correct.

So, the real question is how we can help Cognitive Computing to explain itself when it makes an error developing an A.I. that a human could understand and feel empathy for.

If I know, we are not even close to this, which could be good news because it allows us to rely on human “Cognitive Trainers” or “Cognitive Supervisors,” which are crucial to making Cognitive Computing understandable right now and eventually, make people trust it completely.

I think that the best solution here is to begin small. I know it is a kind of cliché, but less is more. Instead of building a complete system to imitate a human brain, why not build small systems like a memory system, an empathetic system, and how it goes? In this way, it would not be so hard to reproduce all connections that are happening. When these systems are ready, then it could be time to put them all together.

As we can see, it is not a simple topic, and there will not be a definitive answer to all our questions, but I am sure that this conversation will take us so far… If you want to find out where… just stay connected for the next episode.

The Purpose of this book

This book is dedicated to everyone interested in a basic understanding of the possible correlations of Artificial Intelligence with empathy, fears, and other emotions from a neuroscientific and practical perspective. It is open to pursuing further knowledge on these topics.

This is an experimental collaboration to unite the world of neuroscience with the general concepts of artificial intelligence. This is not an easy task since both subjects are complex and new when compared to science itself. Still, it is a beautiful experience to navigate inside these areas.

The focus of this book

This book takes a philosophical approach to share basic concepts and explore overviews on what it takes to build what could be considered an empathetic artificial intelligence.


The book presents a beginner/intermediate level approach for all interested in Artificial Intelligence, empathy, and neuroscience.

Some quotes from the book

The brain learns and memorizes all successful actions we did in the past and the non-successful ones. Even though our environment can influence our learning, we are born with the innate ability to recognize basic emotions. All these processes work side by side when we feel empathy.

Empathy is the ability to perceive or feel what another person feels from within the frame of reference of the other person, i.e., the ability to put himself in the position of another. This ability is essential and has evolved to help us survive as a species, to define social structures.

Humans are naturally afraid of what they do not understand. As a result, it is not surprising that it also applies to innovative technologies. They are often shrouded in mystery. Some technological achievements appear almost unbelievable, outperforming expectations and, in some cases, human performance.

Machines already control many things, we aren’t aware of it. Just imagine a day without your cell phone. Some people would die. Another example would be the banking system. If you think our money is just a number on a system that can collapse at any minute, these are just examples; our cars can be another one. I’m also a fan of A.I., but more than a fan, I think A.I. is inevitable. We need to start to know, to study more of it because it might happen sooner than we think it will.”

Imagine if that application could use Artificial Intelligence to analyze the whole picture: the environment, the colors, the light, your clothes, but examining your face, identifying your facial expression to figure out if you are angry, sad, or surprise with your new picture? This relationship between you and the software could you interact more emotionally with ‘A.I.

To avoid misuse and unintended consequences, AI must be implemented with care, empathy, and consideration. It will be every time more necessary to implement self-regulation measures and ethical values to guide interdisciplinary development and the use of artificial intelligence like fairness, reliability and security, privacy and security, inclusion, transparency, and accountability, but also is essential to have in mind that when using AI systems, we must be fault-tolerant, open to experimentation, and critical.


Created by

Jair Ribeiro

A highly engaged and innovative AI Strategist. Passionate about communication, with a broad I.T. Management and AI background.







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