Tomorrow (11 June, 2013) I am giving a seminar at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). It is five years since I last visited the lab, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the projects I saw back then have developed, as well as getting the opportunity to see new projects that have started more recently.

This is the title and overview of what I have planned for the seminar:

“Tempered” Anthropomorphism and/or Zoomorphism in Human-Robot Interactions

In this talk I consider how a level of “tempered” anthropomorphism and/or zoomorphism can facilitate perceptions of, and interactions between, overtly different communicators such as humans and non-humanoid robots.

My argument interrogates the tendency within social robotics simply to accept the ascription of human characteristics to machines as important in the facilitation of meaningful human-robot interactions. Many
scientists and other academics might argue that this decision is flawed in a similar way to scholarship that attributes human characteristics to animals. In contrast, my analysis suggests that it is possible to adopt
a “tempered” approach, in particular when the robot other is overtly non-humanoid. I suggest that a level of projection is unavoidable, and is quite possibly the only way to attempt to understand autonomous or
semi-autonomous robots. However, being constantly reminded of the “otherness” of the machine is also vital, and is of practical value in creating effective multi-skilled teams consisting of humans and robots.

I will try to alter my talk as required in response to my audience’s reactions, since it can be quite challenging to present humanities-type research to a predominantly technical audience. My aim is to emphasise the practical use of reconsidering human-robot interactions in this way.