Panel 22

How are STS interested in robotics?

Organizers: Letizia Zampino (1); Ilenia Picardi (2); Assunta Viteritti (3)

1: Sapienza, University of Rome, Italy; 2: University of Naples Federico II, Italy; 3: Sapienza, University of Rome, Italy

Topics: Technoscientific promises, imaginaries and expectations; Algorithmic knowledge, media ecologies and artificial intelligence; Innovation imaginaries, practices and policies; Sociomaterial learning processes and/in digital worlds

Keywords: Robots, digitalization, humanoid robots

In the first half of the last century, robotics penetrated the human imagination with stories of Karel Čapek's Rossum's Universal Robots of the 1920s, but also with Isaac Asimov's science fiction novels I, Robot. It then crosses over to the cinema with HAL 9000 from A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer on board the spaceship Discovery that rebels against the human, until the TV series Westworld, which features humanoid robots populating a strange amusement park.

All these imaginaries have fuelled an idea of the humanoid corporatisation of robots, technical objects that 'come to life', black boxes that relate, collaborate and sometimes oppose humans. On the other hand, scholars and robot designers believe that robotics - particularly in its interactions with other technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, 5G, the Metaverse - will bring about profound social transformations that will affect every aspect of human life. STS studies over the past 30 years have promoted perspectives on analysing technology as networks and as interconnection processes, opening up the various black boxes. How have STSs studied and are studying robots and robotics? This is the basic question this track aims to answer. Robots and robotics are now interconnected in many spheres of social worlds, constructing complex techno-scientific processes that promise future worlds capable of supporting, enhancing and expanding the skills of humans by replacing them in the most strenuous jobs or empowering them in the most advanced spheres (from the study of cognition, to space technology, to nanorobots to liquid robotics). Which epistemic communities are involved in the design and production of robots and robotics? How do the fields of robotics shift or connect the worlds of designers to those of users? How do STS take an interest in robotics and the study of robots as they take forms and specialisations in the various fields? What categories, concepts, theoretical frames are translated into the study of this broad field? Which theories and concepts from the STS tradition are enlisted in the social study of robots and robotics?

Empirical, theoretical and methodological contributions from different STS fields of study and application in robotics are welcome, and may include (but are not limited to):

  • design, uses and applications
  • arts and everyday life
  • gamification for adults and children
  • healthcare and medicine
  • education and learning
  • ecological transition and climate change
  • space exploration
  • security and arms
  • work and industry,
  • automatisation and computing
  • digital transition
  • agriculture robotics
  • liquid robotics

We do not know whether the more than human alliances that robots and robotics foster will lead us to interesting times, but we will certainly experience times that will be interesting to study, and STS perspectives can help us in this.