Social Robot Futures

“Only one thing interests Dr. Fastolfe … the human brain … He wishes to reduce it to equations, to a wiring diagram, to a solved maze, and thus found a mathematical science of human behaviour which will allow him to predict the human future.” Isaac Asimov, The Robots of Dawn

From “smart” consumer devices to “digital workers” and “conversational chatbots” in the workplace, the algorithmic automation of routine tasks and communications continues to transform daily life. The industry slogan, “AI everywhere, all at once,” promises a future even more intensively automated, wired, and surveilled. While the risks entailed by this developmental path are publicly debated, a persistent return to the benefits that accrue to humanity continues to justify staying the course. But just who is the “humanity” in the name of whose future the “4th industrial revolution” proceeds? The Social Robot Futures (SRF) website hosts research that probes this question, directing attention to the socio-economic specificity of these AI and robotics discourses and the role of fiction and myth in formulating their assumptions. [Image: Sophia robot, AI for GOOD Global Summit, Geneva 2017, R. Farrell photo, CC BY-2.0 license]


“The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the term was used by Schrodinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future … but to describe reality, the present world. Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.” Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

The site provides annotated bibliographies on ideas in the technical and policy discourses associated with AI and robotics, their consideration in the social sciences and humanities, as well as their representation in literary and cinematic forms. In 2023, we added a working bibliography on the ecological impacts of the systems and practices that support the realization of an AI-enhanced, automated and wired “world.” [Image: Google Dalles Data Center Cooling Towers]

ListsEcological Impacts

“This is what everyone has to remember; no one can tell what the future will bring. Anything can happen. Anything at all.” Kim Stanley Robinson, Fifty Degrees Below

The Social Robot Futures site has maintained a blog since 2014, where we post reflections on ideas and publications, as well as notifications on upcoming events relevant to the project. We also maintain a Facebook page, which is a channel for the SRF Blog posts, as well as a space where we share topical news and information on recent publications in the field. [Image: Protest at Foxconn Zhengzhou Iphone factory 2022, The Guardian video screenshot]

SRF BlogFacebook