How can social robots help us understand human suffering?

Psychologist Robert Johansson has devoted his life’s work to helping those with mental illness. It’s a problem almost as old as humanity itself — but could modern technology be part of the solution?

‘This is myself and this is another’
Be free of this bond which encompasses you about,
And your own self is thereby released.

(The Buddhist Scriptures, p. 179. 1959.)

Without question, depression and other psychological suffering are some of the biggest challenges of our time.

This process of forming a conceptual self, which I will call selfing, is what I see as the very root of psychological suffering.

This idea is not new. As illustrated by the Buddhist scripture quote above, a fundamental thesis in Buddhism — which is over 2,500 years old — is that there is no such thing as an unchanging, permanent Self in living beings, and that clinging to a belief in a Self is the source of all suffering.

This is where artificial intelligence comes into the equation.

During the last decade, we have seen an impressive increase in applications of AI, very often in the medical domain. Can AI help behavioral science to scale?

A theory of general intelligence should be able to account for what we have learned from human psychology, but be formal enough to possibly allow implementation in a computer system.

Importantly though, AI in the form of problem-solving in specific domains does not provide a theory of intelligence that can be used to guide research and practice in the field of AGI.

Another key aspect of contemporary artificial intelligence is the role of the body. Is it possible to create human-level AI without the embodiment in the physical world?

Most scientists today, including myself, would say no to that question — that human-level AI requires physical embodiment.

My goal is to create a simulation of psychological suffering such as depression and anxiety disorders, taking place in a robot body.

Furhat Robotics has released a video featuring the depressed patient simulator robot. A big thank you to world renowned psychotherapist Kristin Osborn for agreeing to feature in the video as well.

In other words, to understand ourselves and our own suffering to its full extent, we need to develop robots with a Self.

- Robert Johansson

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Furhat Robotics is a Stockholm-based startup building the world’s most advanced social robotics platform. Visit us at www.furhatrobotics.com.