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Robots of the future may be given the machine equivalent of a serotonin pill to ‘stop them getting depressed’, argues neuroscientist

Updated: April 13, 2018 at 4:58 pm EST  See Comments

Getting depressed might seem a strange affliction for a robot, but artificially intelligent brains may also suffer from similar mental health problems to people.

That’s the claim put forward by an American neuroscientist, who says that machines could even hallucinate, if not monitored correctly.

Developers will need to create software equivalents to anti-depressants, which help to control levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, he recommends.

Zachary Mainen works at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon and studies how the brain makes decisions.

Previously specialising in machine intelligence, he revealed his unusual theory at the Canonical Computations in Brains and Machines conference in New York.

Dr Mainen claimed that the traditional school of thought regarding the role of serotonin is misguided.

Instead of being involved in happiness and depression, he claims that people who have too little serotonin in their brains struggle to change their view of the world.

‘People think of serotonin as related to happiness, but serotonin neurons appear to send a message that is not good or bad but more ‘oops’ or surprise,’ Dr Mainen told Science.

‘Treating depression through pharmacology is not so much about improving mood, but rather as helping to cope with change.

‘Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, can facilitate brain plasticity.’

It is this ability to change and avoid getting stuck in a rut that is essential for both human and android mental health.

Dr Mainen explained how this can lead to depression in both humans and future robots.

He said: ‘It may be that serotonin is just a biological quirk.

‘But if serotonin is helping solve a more general problem for intelligent systems, then machines might implement a similar function, and if serotonin goes wrong in humans, the equivalent in a machine could also go wrong.’

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