Social Robots as Experimental Systems: Science, Performance and Artificial Sociality

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Abstract

In this paper, I build on fieldwork in Japanese robotics laboratories and discussions of sociality and experimentation in anthropology and STS to investigate the making of socially interactive robots and their use as experimental apparatuses. Specifically, I consider two issues that figure in discussions among roboticists and critics of the field alike. The first concerns the simulation of human sociality in artificial systems. I argue that having the replication of sociality as the benchmark for success in social robotics is likely misguided (cf. Breazeal 2002). Instead, I suggest understanding social robots as experimental systems that enact different forms of sociality and, by doing so, also reconfigure what human sociality is and can be. I propose the concept of artificial sociality to sketch the enactments of such experimental reconfigurations. The second issue concerns the relation between experiments and social life outside the lab. Here, I compare the use of role-playing in a laboratory experiment with the experimental approach known as android theatre (see Chikaraishi et al. 2017) to explore the interface between studies in the laboratory and “in the wild” (Šabanović et al. 2006). I follow Steven Brown’s (2012) reflections on the art and science of experimentation in social psychology to suggest that HRI experiments do not require ‘realistic’ reproductions of social life. Instead, they can produce different kinds of ‘artificial’ performances that enable novel investigations of sociality impossible by other means. Finally, I discuss how the performative dynamics of experiments contribute to discussions of human-robot relations in anthropology and STS.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date9 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022
EventRoyal Anthropological Institute 2022: Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society - Virtual Conference
Duration: 6 Jun 202210 Jun 2022
https://therai.org.uk/conferences/anthropology-ai-and-the-future-of-human-society/

Conference

ConferenceRoyal Anthropological Institute 2022: Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society
LocationVirtual Conference
Period06/06/202210/06/2022
Internet address

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