Abstract In this article we present an approach to the design of human-like artificial systems. It uses a perception model to describe how sensory information is processed for a particular task and to correlate human and artificial perception. Since human-like sensors share their principle of operation with natural systems, their response can be interpreted in an intuitive way. Therefore, such sensors allow for easier and more natural human–machine interaction. The approach is demonstrated in two applications. The first is an “electronic tongue”, which performs quality assessment of food and water. In the second application we describe the development of an artificial hand for dexterous manipulation. We show that human-like functionality can be achieved even if the structure of the system is not completely biologically inspired.