Research Seminar on "Sociology of technology and humanoid robotics: how do engineers and scientists make the iCub robot work?"


Doctoral Research Seminar on "Sociology of technology and humanoid robotics: how do engineers and scientists make the iCub robot work?" by Augusto Francisco, TU Dresden, Department of Sociology visiting researcher at: ICS – Institute for Cognitive Systems

Abstract: In the emerging context of humanoid robotics, many questions are raised within the sociology of technology. The popularisation of humanoid robots presented in cinema, literature, entertainment and social media seems to presuppose that they work almost perfectly. That is a dimension of social life called imaginary. But in real life robots show a completely different picture. In fact, roboticists work hard in the lab, often under a series of technical problems, in order to make the robots work. Instead of focusing on humanoid robots outside the lab, we propose first to understand sociologically how roboticists make humanoid robots work in the lab. For this purpose, it is necessary to operate on a sociological concept which captures the process by which a new technique like humanoid robots are being built. Thus, Halfmann (1996) singled out the concept of technique as medium of communication between social systems. The observed technique is the humanoid robot iCub. How do engineers and scientists make the iCub work? The operation of the iCub (or every other humanoid robot today) presents a lot of difficulties, which need to be fixed by roboticists. The sociological terminus to describe this is installation. When the iCub works well, even if only for a single minute during an experiment, it is sociologically understood as an installation that became a medium of communication (in the scientific context, inside the lab). In addition, to make a humanoid robot work, like the iCub, means that scientists and engineers are building it based on a technological process. In order to observe this building process, my research is being conducted with an ethnographic method: participant observations in 4 robotics laboratories (Lab A, B, C and D) with at least one iCub, 6 months in each laboratory. I will present the preliminary results of the observation in “Lab A” that shows which social criteria the installation “iCub” has to overcome in order to become a medium of communication between social systems.

Bio: M.A. Augusto Francisco is a PhD student at the TU Dresden, Department of Sociology. He obtained a Master degree in 2007 at the UFRN (Federal University Rio Grande do Norte) with a dissertation on how ideology is hidden within the Freudian discourse of love, particularly in concepts like Oedipus Complex. He was granted a scholarship from DAAD/Capes between 2011 and 2012 in order to conduct his research on Daniel Paul Schreber at the University of Bonn. Since 2017, he has been working on his doctoral project on how roboticists develop the iCub human robot. He is also interested in: critical constructionist theory, Über-Ich anthropology, ideology studies, gender studies, political anthropology and psychoanalysis.

22 May 2019 Time: 16:30h, ICS, Karlstraße 45, 6. Floor, room 6009