Empathic Machines

The project deals with ›emotionally intelligent‹ media and machines, made possible primarily by the coupling of sensory digital media with emotional artificial intelligence (or so-called affective computing). Emotional artificial Intelligence is one of the younger branches of artificial intelligence and combines computer sciences, sensor technologies, biometrics, cognitive sciences and neurosciences, psychology, robotics and other areas of knowledge in order to read, recognize, interpret, simulate and even influence human feelings and emotions. One of the hopes and promises of affective computing is to equip computerized machines themselves with feelings and emotions. With the new ›empathic machines‹, the entanglement of mediality and emotionality reaches an unprecedented escalation and quality. It is precisely this entanglement that this project seeks to describe and analyze from a critical media- and cultural-scientific perspective.

The project will investigate the discursive, technical and epistemological prerequisites for the conceptualization of emotions as machine-readable, digitizable and processable entities and the resulting effects on human-machine configurations. According to the hypothesis, emotional AI and its coupling with different technologies goes hand in hand with a further radicalization of the digital standardization and mechanization of human bodies and their impulses. On the other hand, the increased emotionalizing of human and technical bodies leads to a transformed understanding of human-computer-interfaces and artificial intelligence. The consequences of these developments are new cultural techniques and technopolitics of emotionality, which require critical analysis and classification.

The project will explore these questions in two closely interwoven working areas and on the basis of concrete case studies in a field, where the significance of empathy seems to be of particular importance per se: care and therapy. The first focus are ›emotionally intelligent‹ digital media technologies developed for the research, diagnosis, therapy and assistance of people on the autistic spectrum, the second are care and therapy robots equipped with emotional AI, as they are (to be) used for example in elderly care.

Keywords: Emotional Artificial Intelligence, Affective Computing, Care Robots, Companion Robots, Social Robots, Empathy, Autism (and Digitality), Gender, Disability, History of Emotions, History of Psychology


  • Dr. Daniela Wentz