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Slides for Communication and Otherness in Robotic Art

As promised in my last post, here are the slides from the talk I gave today at the Robots and Art – Misbehaving Machines workshop at the International Conference on Social Robotics 2014 in Sydney.

The artistic practice approach to designing robots is not generally focused on creating machines that are completely predictable and reliable. From some perspectives, in particular those that assume familiarity is key in supporting communication success, it might therefore be deemed as unlikely to result in the development of robots that support rich social interactions.

This presentation breaks down this assumption to argue that robotic art installations, where interactions between humans and robots occur even when the robot is overtly strange and other-than-human, provide excellent illustrations of communicative encounters, which may develop into longer interactions. In particular, this presentation highlights the importance of considering nonverbal communication, the dynamics of communication systems and the importance of interruptions, in recognising the communicative potential of non-humanoid robots.

Rather than attending only to what is easily understood, precisely presented and flowing, the importance of misunderstanding, ambiguity and disruption is emphasised. An analysis of encounters between visitors and robots created by artists therefore supports a reconsideration of the position of otherness in communication to invoke new understandings of what it might mean to be social even outside installation spaces.

ICSR Workshop Presentation

I have just travelled to Sydney in preparation for the International Conference on Social Robotics (ICSR), 27-29 October 2014. This is a conference I’ve always wanted to attend, but have never really felt able to pitch a paper that was likely to be accepted. One of the difficulties of interdisciplinary research, I suppose, it that sense of not belonging anywhere. Proposing a paper based on humanities-related methodologies to a scientific or engineering conference certainly feels very challenging to me, although I do go and present seminars to engineers and roboticists on occasion.

However, things are different this year. Not only have a written a paper for a special issue of the International Journal of Social Robotics (IJSR), which I hope will make it through its final review to be published in 2015, but I have also been invited to speak at one of the workshop events on the first day of the ICSR conference.

The workshop is titled: Robots and Art – Misbehaving Machines, and my research into human-robot communication is really relevant, in particular because of the robots that I analyse from creative art installations. This is the title page:

ICSR Presentation Image

I’ll post all of the slides somewhere when the talk has been given. At the moment I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to say, but I may need to be a bit flexible on the day depending on what people before me in the running order have spoken about.

As the images on the title slide show, I’m definitely planning to talk about three example: the Autonomous Light Air Vessels (ALAVs); the Fish-Bird Project; and AUR, the robotic desk lamp. AUR might seem to be an outlier here, since it wasn’t developed as an art installation; however, the use of acting theory that lies behind the interaction design for this robot, and its own acting career (because yes, it was the star of a play called The Confessor), make it a fitting robot to consider as I try to lead out of art and into other applications for human interactions with non-humanoid robots in particular.

The talk really follows the same trajectory as my book Robots and Communication. The manuscript for that is in preparation at the moment, and it should be published as a Palgrave Pivot next year, if all goes to plan.

Presentation at 2014 IEEE Response Robotics Summer School

This year the Department of Computing at Curtin, in association with the Perth Artifactory, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology and other international partners, is hosting the 2014 IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Response Robotics Summer School and Workshop.

I am presenting tomorrow (Monday 29 September), in a joint session, “Art and Robotics”, with the performance artist Stelarc founder of the Alternate Anatomies Laboratory at Curtin. I hope that our session will invigorate the attendees, who will already have experienced two hours of talks and discussions, and will probably be desperate for lunch!

Stelarc will be presenting first, and will likely provide a provocative view of the possibilities of robotics as explored in his artistic practice, and I’m going to try to work from those ideas back towards response robotics by looking at the various ways that robots can be understood to communicate. I’ll be talking about social robotics from scientific and artistic perspectives, moving from examples such as ASIMO (Honda):

ASIMO 4.28.11

and Kismet (MIT):

Kismet, 1993-2000, view 2 - MIT Museum - DSC03711

via The Fish-Bird Project (CSR):


and AUR (MIT):

AUR Still from Video

to discuss relations with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) robots like this Packbot (iRobot) pictured with a soldier:

US Navy 090310-N-7090S-001 Explosive ordnance disposal technicians are using remote-controlled machines to help detect and defuse improvised explosive devices

So, that’s a completely normal presentation trajectory for me, and I’m hoping that it’ll make sense to everyone else!

Criticism, not as judging, but as bringing to life

I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but bring a work, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes ‐ all the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.

Michel Foucault, in “The Masked Philosopher”, on criticism that brings ideas to life. I think that this is what research in the humanities is all about, and it encapsulates how I would like to think and write.

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