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Tag: Conference (page 2 of 3)

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.

Presenting at a distance

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.

What I wish I’d presented at STEP 2008

Last week I went to Sydney for, amongst a couple of other things, STEP 2008. STEP stands for Science, Technology and Economic Progress, and is described as a National Doctoral Program. It is the brain-child of Dr Don Lamberton and has been running for the last 17 years, although I had never heard about it until this year when a call for applications appeared on the CSAA mailing list. The week was filled with presentations by visiting academics (although a number were no-shows for various reasons), student presentations and time working on group projects.

I had a mixed response to attending STEP. Organisationally the whole thing was a shambles, but I enjoyed the student presentations and met some very pleasant and interesting people. The “networking” experience was undoubtedly more positive for those who were all staying together in the accommodation provided close to the University of Western Sydney campus in Parramatta. This was partly because shared adversity always supports the growth of friendships, and also simply because we spent that much more time together as we wandered the streets of Parramatta looking for somewhere nice to eat within everyone’s budget.

My presentation as part of the program wasn’t bad, but by the end of the week I felt that maybe I had missed an opportunity. I chose to try to fit a run down of humanoid robots, “traditional” communication theory, “alternative” communication theory, companions species and non-humanoid robots into my 20-25 minutes. While I actually managed this quite well, it would have been interesting to present later in the week (instead of my timeslot on Wednesday) because I think I might have been better off using STEP itself as an example of the possibilities of complex partial communication, situated knowledges and the importance of respecting otherness-in-relation.

I think that Dr Lamberton wished that there were more pure scientists and engineers in the group, his main goal being to challenge each person’s particular point of view and disciplinary bias. However, I thought that the diversity of cultural and academic backgrounds, and PhD topics from narrow, broad and inter- disciplines lent it’s own interesting flavour to the week. The fact that most people were very open to all of the research perspectives that were represented meant that the student presentations garnered positive and encouraging feedback, although towards the end I think there might have been a slight lack of respect from some, as the sheer horror of having to listen to yet another presentation wore people down.

For me STEP was a gift as an example of incomplete communication, with it’s mixture of language difficulties, startling cultural differences, specialist (and sometimes obscure) terminology, huge range of theory, and artistic and scientific perspectives. However, I suppose if I had gone down that path, using STEP as my example, there’d have been fewer robots and therefore fewer videos in my presentation. Maybe that would have been too much of a loss, particularly for an audience who probably needed some bizarre visual stimulation at that point in the week!

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