Artificial intelligence is already making great strides forward, but taking it to the next level might require a more drastic approach. According to two researchers, we could try giving AI a sense of peril and the fragility of its own existence.

For now, the machines we code don't have a sense of their own being, or the need to fight for life and for survival, as we humans do. If those feelings were developed, that might give robots a better sense of urgency.

The idea is to instil a sense of homeostasis – that need to balance conditions, whether that's the temperature of an environment, or the need for food and drink, that are required to ensure survival.

That would in turn give AI engines more of a reason to improve their behaviours and better themselves, say neuroscientists Kingson Man and Antonio Damasio from the University of Southern California.

"In a dynamic and unpredictable world, an intelligent agent should hold its own meta-goal of self-preservation, like living organisms whose survival relies on homeostasis: the regulation of body states aimed at maintaining conditions compatible with life," write Man and Damasio in their published paper.

In short, we're talking about giving robots feelings. Making them care might make them better in just about every aspect, and it would also give scientists a platform to investigate the very nature of feelings and consciousness, say Man and Damasio.

Given the improvements that are being made in fields like soft robotics, this idea of a more self-aware robot might not be such a fanciful one: if an AI can use inputs like touch and pressure, then it can also identify danger and risk-to-self.

"Rather than up-armouring or adding raw processing power to achieve resilience, we begin the design of these robots by, paradoxically, introducing vulnerability," write the researchers.

If an AI-powered robot is invested in its own survival, it might start making more advanced leaps of intelligence, Man and Damasio argue. It could also make robots better able to deal with challenges it hasn't been specifically coded for, and become more human-like – because they'd have more human-like feelings.

By combining soft robotics and deep learning neural networks – which are designed to mimic the brain's patterns of thought – machines with a sense of jeopardy might not be too far away, according to the researchers.

Let's just hope their sense of self-preservation doesn't eventually overwhelm their respect for their human creators – we've all seen how the Terminator movies pan out.

This is something Man and Damasio have thought about too, and they argue that as robots get better at feelings in general, they'll also get better at feeling empathy – which should be enough to ward off an AI uprising anytime soon.

The idea of making AI more human-like, whether that's with feelings or the ability to dream, may be just what's needed to make these systems even more useful.

"Ultimately, we aim to produce machines that make decisions and control behaviours under the guidance of feeling equivalents," write Man and Damasio.

"We envision these machines achieving a level of adaptiveness and resilience beyond today's 'autonomous' robots."

The paper has been published in Nature Machine Intelligence.