A Robot, Slave or Companion Species

The naming of robots bears witness to their emergence as a new ontological category, birthed in robotics competitions, forming a laboring companion species. This thesis is the result of a sociological survey into the naming practices of competition robots, informed by my auto-ethnographic research into the culture of robot competitions. Many interesting names and connections appeared. Most robots in competitions were named and gendered as well. Names reflected human/machine hybridity, as well as anthropomorphism. The names demonstrate interesting levels of ‘subjectification’ in even the least anthropomorphic or lifelike of robots.

Overall, this data supports the ‘robot as a new ontological category’ hypothesis (Kahn Jr. et al), and further poses the questions, how does this come about and what does that mean? Donna Haraway has made interspecies translation her specialty and so I knit this investigation of a new being becoming into her ‘cats cradle’ with both factual and fictional robots.

My conclusion is that robot naming in competitions is a performance of companion species co-shaping in the contact zone between organic/technic, master/slave and subject/object, supporting the ‘robots as new ontological category’ hypothesis. Robot naming demonstrates human-robot social relationships and both slave, pet and hybrid naming characteristics. My thesis suggests that competitions function as a birth rite of passage, and that naming dubs or introduces the new being to the world and brings the world into the robot.

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