I enjoyed the International Conference on Social Robotics a great deal, and I would now love to attend another robotics conference. Unfortunately, I’m still unsure about whether any paper I pitched would make it through review, because it would likely be so radically different from most of the papers being submitted. I suspect I will need to look for other opportunities like the Robots and Art workshop to help me with this, by allowing my work to exist on the edge of a main conference programme. The video of my presentation has now been uploaded online:
All the presentations from the workshop are available here.
Although not all of the research discussed during the rest of the conference was of direct interest to me, there were lots of things that I will take away from the papers that were presented and the posters that I saw. I’m planning on writing about some of the designs and concepts I saw here early next year.
It was clear to me as the conference progressed that my home really was at the Robots and Art: Misbehaving Machines workshop. All of the presentations on the workshop day were thought-provoking for me, and I loved the mix of art, design, technology and broad ideas about social interaction with humans. It was particularly good to present to some of people whose robots have inspired me to think and write about communication in recent years, and it was even better to find that they appreciated my analysis.
Although I have met Mari Velonaki twice before, it was great to see her again, and to hear a little about her more recent projects and the new collaborative laboratory venture that has just begun. I’m definitely planning another trip to Sydney so that I can catch up with Mari again properly and see what’s going on for myself.
Another high point was meeting Guy Hoffman, and actually getting to talk to him at some length about fluency and interruption in communicating with robots of all different forms. I was greatly relieved to find that my understanding of his robotic desk lamp AUR’s interactions with humans was broadly correct, but I was also interested to gain a new insight into the underlying rhythm that was at work behind its responses to the task and a human’s instructions.
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.
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:
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.
This time last week I was preparing to present a paper for the Robo-philosophy Conference 2014 at Aarhus University in Denmark.
What was unusual about the situation was that I had spent five hours teaching face-to-face in Western Australia already that day, and my presentation was online in Vimeo, ready and waiting to be played.
I suppose it isn’t that strange any more, to present things virtually, that is. I was still in Western Australia when later that evening I did some technical tests for Skyping into the conference room, so that I’d be able to answer questions. Later still, I was online talking to people on the other side of the world about my research, having already received (and, in fact, having started my reply) to an email from a researcher sitting in that distant room. Actually it was a bit odder than that, because since the laptop for the Skype was fully wired up to speakers etc it couldn’t be turned around easily. This meant that I saw the audience briefly when I was introduced and the machine was held up so the camera looked over the room, but after that time I was talking to a blank blackboard, very aware that my huge head (on the screen, no this isn’t a comment about my massive ego) was answering the questions that people raised in the room.
I stuck around on Skype for the rest of the panel. Although it was very difficult to hear everything that the other presenters said, and I lost video part way through, it still felt good to be listening in, to be in some way at least a part of that section of the conference. This was important for me, and made the whole thing more valuable as an experience.
Theoretically, it would have been quite possible for me to present the paper via Skype, live, as it were, but I was very glad that I decided not to do this. There were two main reasons. The first related to the possibility for technical issues to arise. Presentations always run the risk of these, but Skyping from home into a conference room with a wireless internet connection felt too risky. The second was really to do with comfort. By recording the presentation I took the pressure off on the night, and I wasn’t in the position of having to present my paper live to an audience I couldn’t see very well (or possibly at all).
I’ll post the video of the presentation here later tonight.