Books  |    |  May 15, 2009

Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs: The Question of Alien Minds

By David McFarland.
Published by Oxford University Press.
256 pages.

When we interact with animals, we intuitively read thoughts and feelings into their expressions and actions. It is easy–often irresistible–to suppose that they have minds like ours. And as technology grows more sophisticated, we might soon find ourselves interpreting the behavior even of robots in human terms.

But is our natural tendency to humanize other beings philosophically or scientifically justifiable? Can we ever know what non-human minds are really like? How different are human minds from the minds of animals or robots? In Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs, David McFarland offers an accessible exploration of these and many other intriguing questions, questions that illuminate our understanding of the human mind and its limits in knowing and imagining other minds. In exploring these issues, McFarland looks not only at philosophy, but also examines new evidence from the science of animal behavior, plus the latest developments in robotics and artificial intelligence, to show how many different–and often quite surprising–conclusions we can draw about the nature of minds “alien” to our own. Can robots ever feel guilty? Can dogs feel happy? Answering these questions is not simply an abstract exercise but has real implications for such increasingly relevant topics as animal welfare, artificial intelligence, and cybernetics.

Engagingly and accessibly written, and thought-provoking from start to finish, Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs touches on the very nature of mind and its evolution. It is essential reading for anyone curious about animal behavior, robotics, artificial intelligence, or the nature of the human mind.

  • An accessible introduction to the fascinating questions that arise where the philosophy of mind meets artificial intelligence and animal behavior
  • Asks whether it is scientifically and philosophically justifiable to suppose that animals or robots could have minds like ours
  • Shows how different philosophical standpoints can lead to considerably different conclusions about the nature of non-human minds, and how these conclusions are of great relevance to topics such as animal welfare and cybernetics

Table of Contents

Preface. Traffic robot
1. Mindless machines
2. Design of animals and robots
3. Interpreting behaviour
4. Beyond automata
5. Mental possibilities
6. The feeling of being
7. The material mind
8. Mental autonomy
Epilogue. The Alien Mind

About the Author
David McFarland is well known for his studies in animal behavior and more recently the broadening of this understanding to “artificial ethology” and robotics. He is the author of a number of books, including Animal Behaviour: Psychobiology, Ethology, and Evolution, and OUP’s Companion to Animal Behaviour as well as the OPR Animal Behaviour (2006).