“Should Robots Feel Pain?”—Towards a Computational Theory of Pain in Autonomous Systems

Trevor Richardson, Indranil Sur, Heni Ben Amor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


We argue that investigating the biological mechanisms underlying the sensation of pain in humans and animals may lead to fundamental new insights about robot cognition, motor skill acquisition, autonomy, memory, and system integration. Despite the fact that pain plays a central role in the life of humans and more complex animals, it has received only peripheral attention in the field of robotics. In this paper, we discuss the complex web of mechanisms and functions underlying biological pain sensation and anticipation. Next, we examine the opportunities and challenges that arise when studying computational frameworks that mimic nociceptive pathways. Further, we propose two initial benchmark tasks that may be leveraged to accelerate such research. Our main objectives are to highlight a critical knowledge gap in our understanding of intelligent physical systems and to identify a new and promising avenue for further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSpringer Proceedings in Advanced Robotics
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameSpringer Proceedings in Advanced Robotics
ISSN (Print)2511-1256
ISSN (Electronic)2511-1264

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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