Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Heart of the Machine (Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence)

Release Date 3/14/17

By: Richard Yonck

Narrated by: Robertson Dean

Richard Yonck (Author, futurist, consultant, TED speaker, MA from London Film School 1981-1983, Attended Univ. of Wa. 1977-1980.)

Richard Yonck argues the next step in technology is to program emotion into machines. As a skeptic, one’s first reaction is to search for information on Yonck’s background. One finds it is eclectic and more literary than science driven.

Yonck notes human learning is intimately connected with emotion. Emotions of parents and offspring arguably shape children’s view of the world as much as genetic inheritance. Yonck explains parents’ and people’s faces become a school from which children learn the characteristics of emotion. Yonck explains emotional signals reinforce human’ memory, belief, and behavior.

Yonck notes as the growth of facial recognition expands, facial expressions can be programmed into machines to interpret human emotion. The troubling thought is that machines programed with emotions may either negatively react to human facial expression or worse, become unbalanced, like children who act out of anger. With the addition of emotion, machines become capable of learning but also of becoming psychotic just like humans. Yonck suggests a safeguard like Asimov’s three robot rules that argues for programing machines to protect humanity. These rules are meant to deny machines any right to harm humans.


Assimov creates a fourth rule to preserve humanity, but a recurrent theme in his stories show ways in which these rules fail. In the real world, even if the rules were effective, who ensures all machines are programmed with Asimov’s rules?

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992, Russian born American author and professor of biochemistry.)

Programming emotions into machines gives them an essential requirement for learning but that learning can be subverted. Human nature accompanies every decision made by human beings, whether a Hitler or Mahatma Gandhi. A non-conforming leader could refuse to program machines with Asimov’s rules. Government leaders could have machines programmed to kill anyone who disagrees with their leadership.

Money, power, and prestige incentivize both good and bad leaders. The same might be said for learning machines.

Putting concern with the history of human nature aside, Yonck notes some benefits from programming emotions into machines. Machines will be able to think and learn on their own with emotion programming. The demographics of countries like China and Japan suggest an aging cohort will hinder economic growth and diminish needed help for relatives of the working population. Much of that help could be provided by programmed intelligent’ machines. Just as happened with the industrial revolution, jobs will be lost, and retraining will be required. But, a benefit will inure to the elderly who need assistance and the working young who do not have the time or inclination to care for the elderly.

Yonck suggests machines will be partners and companions of human beings. Psycho-sexual relationships will develop between machines and humans. Machines will replace work for humans while increasing product research, development, and production. Machines will reduce social inequality by increasing the general wealth of the world. That is a best-case scenario.

A consequence of thinking-machine programming is that machines will either outlast their human companions or break down and be grieved by their survivors. Of course, machine death is not much different than the birth and death of humans. Humans break down (die) and are grieved by those left behind.

Another evolutionary possibility suggested by Yonck is the melding of human mind and machine. He notes a treatment for PTSD (actually approved by FDA) that involves electrical stimulation of a portion of the brain that appears to activate anxiety from recalled traumatic events. Yonck suggests continuing brain research will reveal neuronal pathways of thought and action that can be modified by electrical stimulation. He infers this is a first step in a journey toward a human/machine singularity like the transition from ape to humanoid to homo sapiens in geological history. He suggests a new human/machine society might be the next evolutionary change of humankind.

In the last chapters of Yonck’s book several examples of brain intervention are noted. Two interventions are direct with invasive insertions of wire into the brain and electrical stimulation from skull caps and clothing. A third type of intervention is with drugs. All have mixed results.

Yonck is a TED conference speaker. His writings have a quality of entertainment that makes him interesting if not steeped in science. On balance, Yonck appears more optimistic than pessimistic about the future of A.I. whether emotion programing for machines occurs or not.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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