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If you’re afraid of artificial intelligences, like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, the tables are about to get turned. Researchers at Kazan Federal University made an artificial rat brain feel fear and disgust, and they’re hoping to model more emotions soon.

An interdisciplinary team led by Maxim Talanov are modelling emotional states in a simulated rat brain using Lővheim’s cube of emotion. Along the three axes of the cube of emotion are the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline with eight emotions at its corners. According to this theory emotions arise as neurotransmitters fluctuate; for example high levels of dopamine but low serotonin and noradrenaline cause fear.

In the case of Talanov’s artificial rat brain, emotions are simulated by redistributing computer power between data storage processes and decision-making. So far the easiest emotions to provoke have been disgust and fear. Talanov and his team are certain other emotions, like joy and excitement, will be simulated in 2-3 years.

Which raises some ethical issues about the status of artificial intelligences. If an A.I. feels the whole spectrum of human emotions, should we consider it conscious and afford the entity the same rights as us? Would a smartcar be considered culpable for murder because it felt road rage, its lawyer arguing “It was programmed that way” or hacked with a ‘rage’ virus?

Talanov acknowledges there’s much more to be done since there’s not enough computing power available to model the human brain. “This simluation is about a thousand times smaller than the real work of the cerebral cortex, and the brain only needs 20 watts of power to do its job” he told Nikita Statsenko of Rusbase.ru.

Maybe next time you hear someone peddling the horrors of A.I., take heart that they’re probably just as afraid of you as you are of them.

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