— Louis Chude-Sokei: Race and Robotics: An Uncanny History
Though often imagined as cultural or social oppositions, discourses of race and those of technology are so intimate as to have actually been birthed in the shared and overlapping historical contexts of slavery and industrialization. This presentation focuses on key moments in those histories as one discourse–say, technology as anthropomorphized into robotics, cybernetics and ultimately Artificial Intelligence–as it abuts and blends with the history of another, for example slavery, colonialism and evolving notions of race as both material or poetic stand-in for non-human life. Watch video here.
— Despina Kakoudaki: The End of a Difference: Robot Narratives for the 21st Century
How have robot narratives changed with the advent of real-life robotics in contemporary culture? Robots, cyborgs, automata, and other versions of the artificial person have had a long presence in human culture, and their stories emerged long before the development of the advanced technologies that may make them at all possible. We often wonder about how science fiction might inspire or inform actual science, but what is the impact of science on the patterns and longstanding tropes of science fiction? This paper will explore the ways in which our general technological familiarity with new robotic applications, with their practical uses, tendencies, limits, and requirements, changes the parameters of robot fictions, dissolving certain patterns of human-robot interaction, and revolutionizing others. Drawing from recent films and TV series, such as Battlestar Galactica, Wall-E, Real Steel, Robot and Frank, Her, and Ex Machina, this paper examines the complex evolution of the cinematic and literary fantasies associated with artificial people today. Watch video here.
— Lucy Suchman: Robot Futures: Reflections on Technocultures of Humanlike Machines
Taking inspiration from critical studies in the history, culture and politics of technology, this paper considers some contemporary developments in the project of creating humanlike machines. My main focus is on humanoid robots, examining how their capacities are figured in relevant technocultural imaginaries and material practices, and the domains in which they are projected into the lives – and deaths – of humans. I look for resources that can help us to think critically about the unquestionned assumptions that these stories repeat, at the same time that they purport to be telling us about things that are unprecedented and, most disturbingly, inevitable. A central goal of this exercise is to identify the contingencies that make the futures reported highly uncertain ones, and to contribute to ways of imagining and making our futures differently. Watch video here.
— Kathleen Richardson: Property Relations: Sex Robots, Chatbots and the Rights of Machines
Human rights are premised on the view that persons are not things to be treated like, traded or transacted as goods or services. Though what it means to be human is not constant across time and space (and certainly not held to account in countries that laid down human rights in law), a recurring theme in the demand for human recognition is resistance to use of persons as property by powerful others, epitomized by rebellion, revolution and protest. Do robots and AI chatbots require us to rethink and extend rights to them? Do machines (aka property) need rights and recognition? Moreover, as capitalism creates new markets, the bodies of persons have been off-limits to market exploitation except for example in cases of prostitution which is still rife in Europe and the Americas where bodies of persons are transacted as commercial goods. I want to propose that pro machine rights arguments are a new way of extending the rights of property owners and reinforcing the dominant mode of existence – property relations. Watch video here.
— Patrick Crogan: Killer Robots: Artificial Thought, War and Environment
LARS or “lethal autonomous robotic systems” are the subject of considerable debate. N Katherine Hayles’ argues that we should approach technological change (including drone systems) as questions about the “cognitive assemblages” through which humans not only act but in fact interpret the world. Human thought has always been enabled and conditioned through technical artefacts, but today processes of perceiving, selecting, filtering, identifying and deciding that were once assumed to be the preserve of the mind are increasingly outsourced to networks of sensors, computational processing and “actuators.” These non-human, inorganic elements of the cognitive assemblage of human endeavour in the domain of war necessarily change our perception and understanding of it. For instance, research on life forms such as ants and birds finds its way into the development of swarming in robotics advances. How are we to compose a politically, ethically, legally legitimate form of war within this new environment? Watch video here.
— Illah Nourbakhsh: On the Collision of Robot Ethics and Robot Futures
As robots extend existing power relationships of information and control to the tangible world even further, they interrogate our definition of humanity, and they also exacerbate relationships built on hegemonies of power in society. In this talk I navigate the possible robot futures we face from the point of view of human-human and human-robot relationships of power, control and ethics. Watch video here.
— Vikram Chandra: The Pleasures of Ambiguity
Computer programmers work in formal languages, and try to banish the inherent ambiguity and multiplicity of language. In pre-modern India, generations of linguists and philosophers used Sanskrit, a natural language bound by a generative grammar, and searched for clarity and precision. Despite Sanskrit’s unique nature – it is the only human tongue that is governed by a rule-set equivalent in power to Chomsky’s context-free grammars, which means that every Sanskrit sentence can be derived precisely and unambiguously – the pre-modern thinkers found that ambiguity is unavoidable and indeed is desirable. They argued that purposeful ambiguity is what makes poetic language beautiful and celebrated it as “the soul of poetry.” They recognized that the ambiguity of language resonates with the irremediable multiplicity of human consciousness and celebrated the pleasure of this encounter as divine. Watch video here.