Emotional Intelligence: When Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Enough

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The Cambridge Dictionary defines emotional intelligence as follows:

the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems

The Problem with Current Day Artificial Intelligence

There is no doubt to my mind that most of our readers are familiar with the term Artificial Intelligence. Far fewer people truly understand the meaning of the term than anyone wants to admit. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is the new industry buzz word. It is technical jargon for a process in which intelligence is manufactured from machine code. I contend that one of the long term issues with AI will not be whether or not we can create some level of sentience in a machine, but whether or not we want to do so without also understanding the need for emotion.

Scientists and technologists have proven that they have the ability to write sophisticated code which can emulate true human intelligence. We are just on the brink of new discoveries which will allow machines to not only replicate our thought processes, but even generate their own unique thoughts. I trust, that before long, we will have machines acting in ways which appear to be near-human. Will that be enough? What would be missing from a machine that can think like a human, but not truly be a human? Those thoughts are what I would like to speak to in this post.

Emotion = Human

Every human being is driven my emotion. Fans of popular science fiction may recall species from other worlds who have learned to withdraw from their selfish characteristics and employ only pure logic to the issues of their life. However, I have never met such a being in real life. Think back over the course of your career, your relationships, and your childhood. Can you think of any decision you have ever made which was not made with some level of emotion?

When we choose to love, we are driven by a need to love or be loved. Those needs are feelings fueled with emotion. The same is true when we choose to have children, or change careers. We are all driven by emotions, so I propose that emotions are critical for sentient beings. While it may seem positive to desire a life driven purely by logic, we have to understand what it is that we lose when we live without emotion.

Emotions cause us to do some pretty amazing things. Many of those things are stupid actions which we regret later in life. That is exactly my point. We learn from emotional responses and the causality of our actions. It may hurt when a relationship ends as our emotions cause us to cry or become depressed, but many would argue that a life lived without the experience of love lost would be less than perfect. How else would you know just how precious love found actually is?

Emotion = Life

We cannot truly understand humanity without studying the emotions and actions caused by emotions. Hatred has led nations down dark paths of racism, slavery, murder, and genocide. Love has lifted spirits through the arts of music, prose, and theater. How many of us have favorite songs, movies, or written works that speak to us and, at one time or another, have spoken to our emotions in a way of healing, connecting, or comfort? It is my opinion that to be without emotion is to be less than human. It is a part of our DNA, so to speak.

As I relate this to machines, and the idea of AI, I consider it a concern that we focus on the more industrial aspects humanity for the basis of our understanding of artificial intelligence. To date, our scientific minds have spent decades trying to replicate movements, physical features, and reasoning through code. Should we not also focus on the idea of imparting one of our best, and arguably worst features to machines as well? Of course, I am referring to emotions.

Over the last decade much has been written regarding the idea of emotional intelligence as it relates to the workplace. When you gather a group of people together in an office building and make many distinct personalities partner together for the good of the group, you quickly learn that those with the highest levels of emotional intelligence rise to the top. This is not always the members with the highest IQ or testing scores. It is often those who have learned to navigate their own emotions and the emotions of others.

If that trait is so critical to the human worker, then it might be critical for machines to have as well. Science fiction is often a look into the future. I have always wondered if that is because we pattern reality after our dreams or our dreams after our reality. In either case, we often see the predictions from our favorite science fiction novels come true at some point. One theme of science fiction for years has been this idea of the machines taking over and fighting back against humanity. If we ever do reach the point of creating a sentient being and impose our will upon it, would we not want it to have the capability of emotional intelligence?

Emotion = Sentience

When I think of emotional intelligence, I am reminded of many times where I have failed to understand a friend, co-worker, or family member. Those misunderstandings have led to actions which had a lasting impact on my relationships and to my effectiveness. While emotions bring about complications in human discourse, they are important. Our emotions relate the bias that we bring to every relationship and conversation. Our emotions portray who we really are.

A machine that can think like us, but not have the ability to understand us, will never be able to work along side us. Machines without empathy will never be able to replace doctors, writers, or composers. Emotions are foundational to life, and emotional intelligence in critical for navigating life among living creatures. Without our emotions, what are we? Are we not mere machines? What is is that makes us more than wires, fluids, and shells? I personally believe there are two factors that separate us from machines with AI. First, we have a soul or spirit. Some will argue that first point. If it is true, it is not something we can create and impart to a machine. Secondly, we have emotions.


We are living in exciting times when the mere thought of artificial intelligence is a real conversation topic. We have amazing scientists and technologists who are making science fiction a reality. What is stopping us from creating a machine which looks and acts like us in almost every fashion? There are so many aspects we have to consider, chiefly ethics. While we ponder these concerns and we drive forward with innovation, I think we will discover that knowledge is not much without understanding. Understanding comes from beings with emotions who can sympathize, empathize, and feel.

Author: Phil

Phil Williams is an engineer with around 20 years of information technology industry experience with past focus areas in security, performance, and compliance monitoring and reporting. Phil is a husband, father of 6 children, and an avid geek who loves building computers, gaming, and gadgets. He has an undergraduate degree in general IT sciences and has worked with the US Government as a contractor for over 20 years. He is now in a security solutions advisory role for a large vendor supporting commercial and enterprise customers.

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