Perth computer scientist Graham Mann was developing algorithms to simulate "free thinking" and emotion.
Speaking at the World Computer Congress in Brisbane this week, the Murdoch University professor described efforts to translate the "feel" of Aesop's Fables for machines.
Today's machines outperformed humans on "high focus", rational tasks like diagnosing breast cancer from data.
But they lacked "lower focus" capabilities that identified superficial resemblances and salience, Mann explained.
"It's long been thought that emotions and reason are in conflict with each other," he said. "You think of Mr Spock, or scientists as very cold people who are objective and so on.
"I've reached the conclusion that an intelligent system must have emotions built into it before it can function and so on.
"I believe that it is possible - if we start to model the way human beings reason about things - to achieve much more flexible processing of storylines, plans, even understanding how human beings behave."
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