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why can’t we make a computer that feels pain?

We can’t make computers feel pain because ‘we don’t know what pain is’…

I’ve only recently discovered the TechEmergence Podcast. (Yes, I live under a rock.) Because they are well beyond their hundredth episode, I started to go back and pick through some older episodes to get up to speed on the sort of topics they broach, and I am really digging it so far.

One episode I particularly enjoyed featured a conversation with Dr. David Gunkel from this past September titled “Do Unto Your Smartphone as You Would Do Unto Others.” They talked about our relationship with machines, about how the way we value people and things evolves over time, and where our relationship with intelligent machines might go in the near future.


A particularly interesting moment came when Dr. Gunkel referenced a 1978 paper by Daniel C. Dennett called “Why you can’t make a computer that feels pain.” Gunkel suggested that the reason we cannot make a computer feel pain is (I’m quoting from the show notes) because “we simply don’t know what pain is, we can’t compute it. We have assumptions, but the actual thing itself is a conjecture based on external behaviors. The same argument could be made for intelligence.”

Check out the podcast here…
TechEmergence: “Do Unto Your Smartphone as You Would Do Unto Others”

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