Autonomy and Automation

Pleased to be part of the Autonomy and Automation: Robotics, AI and the Digital Cultural Future  One Day Seminar at DCRC – UWE Bristol Saturday March 8, 2014


My talk title and abstract scheduled for Autonomy and Automation Event – 8th March 2014.

Title: The Robot Intermediary

Abstract: This talk will explore the robot as an intermediary that can help children with autism develop social skills. According to roboticists, a robot acts as an intermediary between children with autism and an adult, allowing a social exchange to occur. Why is the robot able to do this when the adult alone is not able to elicit such a response? According to robotic scientists the robot become an analogical model of a person – a ‘simplified person’. Studies of autism provide roboticists with these ideas by showing how confusing social interactions can be for children with autism, from labelling emotions to understanding the importance of reading eye-contact in others. In such a case, a humanoid robot, in a highly modified and rigid form, can be like and not-like a human. The robot has something familiar about it – in that it might look humanlike, but it is not. The movements of the machine are seriously reduced. A ‘real’-person is seen as too confusing for a child with autism, too many expressions, vocalisations and physical movements. A robot by contrast has significantly fewer and more rigid expressions of the above. A case can be made by robotic scientists that robots have special kinds of features that can help children with autism. In these discussions are these researchers subtly implying there is identity between the robot and the child with autism? Why is the robot able to act as an intermediary between adult and child with autism? What kinds of connections are made between humanoid robots and children with autism? I propose to fully know why a robot acts as an entity to help children with autism, one must really understand how autism is currently modelled. Children with autism are seen as missing ‘social’ parts and are not seen as complete or whole. These parts they miss mean they cannot engage with people, animals and things in a ‘typical’ way. Autism experts claim that children with autism may ignore persons, and become preoccupied with the ‘wrong’ parts of things (a wheel on a bus). I want to suggest that the rise of machines for helping children with autism is driven by how autism is modelled as an affective condition. Descriptions of autism by autism experts invoke mechanistic metaphors and persons with autism can be described as being low or high-functioning, repetitive, disinterested in persons, thing-focused. In this talk I will explore these analogies made between persons with autism and machines.


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