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Lasse Blond

Dances with Robots: Understanding social robots in practice

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning

This thesis is the outcome of a research project that sought to explore and elaborate the comprehension of successful and failed technology transfers. The case study is the transfer of the South Korean robot Silbot and the effort to adapt it to practice in Nordic health- and elderly care. At the time of writing, Silbot is still used in Aarhus, Denmark, while the Finnish caregivers have returned the robot - after its preliminary testing in Helsinki in 2012. What at first glance might appear as a clear-cut case of a successful and failed technology transfer gets more nuanced on closer inspection. The notion of successful and failed transfers of technology turns out to be too simplistic.

After observing the present uses of Silbot in Danish elderly care service, interviewing Danish stakeholders, visiting the original test-site in the outskirts of Helsinki, and talking to the former members of the Finnish project team, the author has found it necessary to revise and enhance the awareness of what exactly is at stake in technology transfers. This thesis proposes a new conceptual and more comprehensive understanding of the transfer and adaptation of technology as emergent sociotechnical phenomena in time and space. It is hoped that such a comprehension can replace commonly held and linear perceptions of transfers as mere relocation projects and cases of moving technology from point A to B. It singles out and draws on perspectives from the philosophy of technology, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and practice studies capable of elucidating different aspects of technology transfers and the succeeding adaptation to practice in recipient countries. My empirical fieldwork highlights how transferred technologies are not adopted passively but are transformed in the attempts to implement them into practice. In this process the recipient culture shapes the imported technological artefacts but is likewise shaped by the technologies that act in unforeseen ways forcing the recipient culture to adjust. Taking the actions of these technologies or non-human agents into account, the thesis examines how Silbot as an active change agent continuously transforms its surroundings and users.

The author suggests that technology transfers can fruitfully be understood as exchanges between human and non-humans – as dances of agency – where technologies appear malleable in spite of their material stability, and where human intentionality is tuned in an iterative learning process. It is argued that transferred technologies, as in this case social robots, should be viewed as parts of travelling practices - stressing the difficulty of understanding robots as singular, autonomous technological artefacts. Like other technologies, robots are elements of ongoing practices. They are co-constructed in their various contexts of use by their users and thus seem more like processes than entities. Therefore, the thesis strongly emphasises the importance of understanding social robots in practice, as robots appear to be what they have become in these dances of agency and emergent interactions with their users.

ForlagSUN-TRYK, Aarhus Universitet
Antal sider191
StatusAfsendt - 2018


  • Social robots, health care, Elderly care, Science and technology studies, Andrew Pickering, Postphenomenology, Ethnography, Field work, HRI, human-robot interaction, Technology Transfer, robot design, Implementation Success and Failure, Adaptation of robots, Silbot, Dementia, Social studies, sociology of technology

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