Outline of a sensory-motor perspective on intrinsically moral agents

Christian Balkenius, Lola Canamero, Philip Parmanets, Birger Johansson, Martin Butz, Andreas Olsson

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We propose that moral behaviour of artificial agents could (and should) be intrinsically grounded in their own sensory-motor experiences. Such an ability depends critically on seven types of competencies. First, intrinsic morality should be grounded in the internal values of the robot arising from its physiology and embodiment. Second, the moral principles of robots should develop through their interactions with the environment and with other agents. Third, we claim that the dynamics of moral (or social) emotions closely follows that of other non-social emotions used in valuation and decision making. Fourth, we explain how moral emotions can be learned from the observation of others. Fifth, we argue that to assess social interaction, a robot should be able to learn about and understand responsibility and causation. Sixth, we explain how mechanisms that can learn the consequences of actions are necessary for a robot to make moral decisions. Seventh, we describe how the moral evaluation mechanisms outlined can be extended to situations where a robot should understand the goals of others. Finally, we argue that these competencies lay the foundation for robots that can feel guilt, shame and pride, that have compassion and that know how to assign responsibility and blame.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-319
Number of pages14
JournalAdaptive Behavior
Issue number5
Early online date10 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2016


  • autonomous robots
  • embodied emotions
  • sensory-motor grouonding
  • embodied interaction
  • empathy
  • intrinsic morality


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