Chris Chesher, Unversity of Sydney, describes the conceptual challenges that robotics poses for media and communication studies. While this is still in press and subject to change, I found that this list is something I will want to refer to again! The transition from broadcast media to the internet and mobile media is complicated. Just as some theoretical models have emerged to understand computers, a ‘universal’ medium, the rise of robotics is going to create new layers of differentiation.
a. Robots are explicitly quasi-others, challenging traditional Humanist taboos against the agency and anthropomorphism of objects.
b. Robots have physical particularity, presence and autonomous activity, in contrast to other media such as printed, audio and screen-based media, which tend to be positioned as transparent and standardised and mass-produced media.
c. Robots use multimodal elements (movements, sound, screens, ‘emotion’) that aspire to create meanings that combine several media (facial expressions, movement relative to personal space, speech and so on).
d. Robots work with greater degrees of feedback than traditional computers. Robots perceive and interpret user actions, and modify their behavior within cybernetic loops.
I think that there may need also to be a separation between the metacommunication of robot as human proxy and the very specific and asymmetric human-robot and robot-human communication. Chris Chesher is one of the few theorists I’m aware of who attempts to deconstruct what a robot communication is.
[image of Waseda Talker 2007 – one of a series replicating human vocal production ]