Workshop participants

REELER's workshop organizers were pleased to have the participation of the following speakers, listed here with brief selections from their position papers.

These participants were included in a round of presentations and moderated group discussions, and will submit their papers to our special issue publication.

Cathrine Hasse opened the workshop with a brief lecture, Ethnographic research - What is it? 

This lecture helped to establish common ground among workshop participants, presenting the fundamentals of ethnographic research, the methods and perspectives often used in ethnographic studies, and the benefits and challenges of working through this methodology. Cathrine opened ethnography up as a methodology, not merely a method, complete with analytical and theoretical perspectives, ethical principles, fieldwork methods, and particular orientations toward the field (the subjects and objects of study). 

Kathleen Richardson told us What we can learn about humans by studying robots, based on her pioneering ethnographic study at MIT. She shared insights into how researchers can conduct themselves, ethically, when studying so closely.

"Robotic labs are fieldsites that open up new opportunities to the ethnographer to explore the social production of technologies and explore what it means to be humans. Machines as artefacts are culturally constructed; they are not born or grown, or exist outside of human creation, but are made into things. Ethnographic studies of the production of robotic and AI artefacts tells us about our ideas about ourselves and others. Robotic and AI labs afford new opportunities to explore binary assumptions between the living and non-living, inert and alive, person and property and human and tool because robotic scientists attempt to make machines like humans or other living beings. Is the binary between human and machine dissolving as machines, we are told, become more intelligent and humanlike. Do the disciplines of robotics and AI dissolve boundaries in new ways or does it should the limits of what machines can and cannot? This talk will examine these questions."

Kathleen and Cathrine laid the ground for the subsequent topical discussions of ethics, design and imagery, and implementation.      

TOPIC 1: Ethics What can ethnographic studies bring to ethics in robotics?

Karolina Zawieska brought up the question Is roboethics really optional? unfolding and contesting some of the reasons why engineers have previously shied away from ethics.

"Over the years, the question of roboethics has gained increased attention across a variety of disciplines, areas and institutions. Depending on the approach, there has been a variety of interdisciplinary attempts to determine and foster guiding rules and principles for the development and use of robotic and AI systems. While the reasons for engaging with roboethics are rather clear (‘ensure protection and well-being of human beings’), the reasons for not to addressing ethics in this context are certainly worth a closer look. This paper discusses the reasons for dismissing roboethics within some parts of the robotics community and the underlying logic for leaving ethics unaddressed in and outside the field of robotics. We argue that by excluding ethics from design thinking one actually excludes human beings, which is the ultimate form of dehumanisation of humans in our society. Since formal and abstract moral systems are often difficult to incorporate into practice-oriented robotics research, we suggest developing roboethics towards ‘lived ethics’."

Jessica Sorenson asked Where do ethics belong? with her presentation of an ethnographic study of decision-making and values in an industrial robotics project.

"Formalized attempts to instill ethics into engineering activities have been prescriptive and narrowly focused on the individual engineer. Decision-making theories and frameworks have been similarly schematic and ordered. In a study of decision-making in a Danish collaborative industrial robotics project, I have explored how participants in a collaborative design project – engineers, primarily – think about decisions and ethics, how they make decisions in practice, and how they implement ethics into their work. Methods included participant observation in a technical research institute and in machine workshops, document and visual media analysis, object elicitation, and qualitative interviews. This ethnographic study revealed a discrepancy between participants’ cut-and-dry approaches to ethics and decision-making, and their more processual decision-making practices. Ethics, however, remained relegated to the concept stage of design and were not integrated into the continuous design process. In this paper, I argue that engineering ethics ought to depart from the hypothetical, procedural frameworks and should rather bring ethical thinking out of the corner and into everyday practices by targeting the existing decision-making activities of engineers."

TOPIC 2: Design What does ethnography tell us about design and designers?

Jamie Wallace opened a discussion on visual ethnography in his presentation of ‘Seen’ and ‘unseen’ ethics: Visual ethnography and representations in social robotics, based on an ethnographic study of professional literature.

"This paper argues for visual studies as a way to consider the inclusion (or not), of ethical and societal issues within the field of HRI.  It draws attention to representations used in robotic research and design, and draws upon an ethnographic study of research papers in the field of Social Robotics. Initial findings suggest a diminished and asymmetric consideration of human orientated concerns obscured through an inclination towards computational and quantifiable arrangements. Patterns in the types and uses of representations are shown to offer multiple and paradoxical meanings when appearing juxtaposed together.  A final discussion tentatively suggests visual studies as a new way to reconsider ethics within HRI, and calls for a better awareness of the role representations play in design ethics." 

Julia Rosén presented her paper The robot illusion - Facts and fiction, discussing representations of robots in science fiction by filmmakers, in advertisements by robot developers, and in experimental setups by HRI researchers. 

"To researchers and technicians working with robots on a daily basis, it is most often obvious what is part of the staging and not, and thus it may be easy to forget that illusions like these are not explicit and the that the general public may actually be deceived. Should the disclosure of the illusion be the responsibility of roboticists? Or should the assumption be that human beings, on the basis of their experiences as an audience in ￿lm, theatre, music or video gaming, assume the audience is able to enjoy the experience without needing to know everything in advance about how the illusion is created? Therefore, we believe that a discussion of whether or not researchers should be more transparent in what kinds of machines they are presenting is necessary. How can researchers present interactive robots in an engaging way, without misleading the audience?"

EunJeong Cheon experimented with an approach to value-sensitive design in her study Futuristic Autobiographies in a Collaboration Toolkit for HRI. She demonstrated how ethnography can be used as provocation in design. 

[This paper will be presented at the HRI 2018 conference. The paper can be accessed through the ACM proceedings database at a later date.] 

TOPIC 3: Implementation How can ethnographic studies help design and implementation processes?

Niels Christian Mossfeldt Nickelsen presented his empirical study of Feeding Assistive Robotics (FAR) in care for the Disabled: Socio-technical imaginaries, ethics, and practice. He shared how the political discourse of innovation has driven the implementation of technologies, affecting users' everyday lives.

"In this presentation, I explore impact of assistive robots on work settings, how robotics affect workplace relations and routines, and issues of inclusion and exclusion. More precisely, I discuss ongoing transformations in care for the disabled in Denmark as an effect of technologically driven care innovation. Citizens with low or no function in their arms are obvious candidates to use feeding assistive robotics (FAR). [The governing authorities] endorse this technology. However, it proves difficult to both recruit suitable citizens and to ensure implementation and sustained use over an extended period…I report from an empirical study of the second generation of FAR [Bestic] by investigating imaginaries and ethics as articulated by roboticists and affected stakeholders such as users, care providers and occupational therapists…By using material semiotics as an analytic resource, I scrutinize both the socio-technological imaginaries and the infrastructural re-configurations implicated in practice by Bestic."

Lasse Blond spoke about Studying Robots Outside the Lab: How ethnographic studies of robots in practice benefit HRI. His presentation highlighted the importance of recognizing cultural aspects of robots in implementation, design, and research.   

"My ethnographic fieldwork concerning the transfer and implementation of South Korean socially assistive robots in elderly care practices in Finland and Denmark stresses the temporal and contextual aspects of the adaptation process....By combining HRI-studies with ethnography and STS-perspectives, I want to emphasize robots as multistable (Ihde 1990; Rosenberger 2014) and recognize that robots like other artefacts are enveloped in social practices (Pickering 1995); that their role is constructed in these practices (Alač 2016a, Alač 2016b & Lazar et al. 2016) and not something that can be designed in advance (Breazeal 2003; Suchman 2007; Alač et al. 2011: 894). My empirical findings highlight the reciprocity of human-robotics relations and allow the roboticist to grasp robots as shapers of culture and shaped by the cultural context of their use (Blond & Olesen 2018). Knowledge generated from ethnography and ethnographic data thus seem valuable, not only as an important contribution to the conceptual development in HRI-studies, but also as a way to ground future designs of robots and their imagined uses in real life contexts (Wynsberghe 2015)."

[The organizers are editing a special issue publication on the basis of this workshop. Follow us on twitter for updates.]