Humanoid Robots

Chapter 1 Designing Robots to Communicate with Humans

yellow_quotationIdeally, robots (and other interactive technologies) could participate in natural, human-style social exchange with their users (Breazeal and Foerst, 1999, p. 375).

This quotation encapsulates the idea that robots designed to communicate with humans should be able to take part in humanlike social exchanges that seem natural from the perspective of human participants. Although Breazeal and Foerst wrote this in 1999, the idea that humanoid robots are preferable if human-robot communication is to be encouraged is still a feature in discussions about social robots (Dautenhan, 2013). In this chapter, I discuss a number of different humanoid robots in drawing out the ways that interactions between humans and humanoid robots are framed by understandings of communication that position the differences between communicators as a problems to be overcome.

The chapter then critiques these ideas, drawing on the work of John Durham Peters (1999) and Amit Pinchevski (2006) who both suggest that efforts to remove the differences between communicators are undesirable. While the reduction of difference is a feature of various communication theories, I argue that at times some differences are positioned as positive attributes within a particular context. For example, the difference afforded by Data’s lack of feelings (yes, I do discuss the character in Star Trek: The Next Generation) is regarded in a positive light, because it lends his communication a precise and logical edge that fits well within Star Fleet, an organisation that places great value on rational argument, logic and precision in deciding what actions to take or processes to follow.


Breazeal, C., & Foerst, A. (1999). Schmoozing with robots: exploring the boundary of the original wireless network. In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Cognitive Technology (pp. 375–389).

Dautenhahn, K. (2013). Human-Robot Interaction. In M. Soegaard & R. F. Dam (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction (2nd ed.). Aarhus, Denmark: The Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved from

Peters, J. D. (1999). Speaking into the air: a history of the idea of communication. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Pinchevski, A. (2005). By way of interruption: Levinas and the ethics of communication. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Dusquene University Press.

Image of Kismet taken by Eleanor Sandry, with still of Data from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (