Paper presenting the initial research findings of my ‘Naming of Robots’ project, which explores the ways in which robot competitions express liminal identity and gender by examining empirical data from competition records with a cultural studies of science approach.
When I was growing up I had a horse. I used to go riding with the boys nearby. They had trail bikes. Girls liked horses. Boys liked motorbikes.
I knew boys with horses too but they weren’t quite so full of the horsey passion. They didn’t read horse books and have horse toys. I’m going to generalise here. The horse has been feminized.
Once a prime technology, the vehicle and engine of our civilization, the horse was overtaken by industrialization. A workhorse required care and control. This was predominantly a male industry. Men were very involved in every aspect of horse, passionately. The racing industry is like the ring around the bathtub when the rest of the bath has been drained away.
What does this have to do with robots? Well, the boys like robots and most of the girls don’t. They still like horses. Creating more opportunities for girls to be involved with robots may not work when the whole industry is so productive of masculinity. However, if the robot world could be made more horsey, maybe then things would change.
Just a thought.
I call upon us to stop unthinking anthropomorphism of robots. Robots are still coming into being. Our casual humanising of robotics is colonising, reinforcing dominant social structures of gender, race and class. We see only what looks like us. We blind ourselves to potential. We should rather refer to all robots as ‘ze’, ‘zey’ and ‘zem’, unless there is a specific reason to imitate a gendered human response. Robot names should be more fluid, not fix identity as faux humans. Robots and non human organisms should have zer/their right to existence formally recognized as more than just the sum of our interaction with zem/them. Robots are uniquely situated, as designed organisms or mechanisms, to free us from the chains of humanity, not replicate them.
This is the seed of the first robot manifesto of rights. There are many people who have expressed these ideas in more nuanced ways, from Isaac Asimov to Joseph Weizenbaum, who created ELIZA in the 1960s and wrote Computer Power and Human Reason, to Donna Haraway’s work on covering the range of simians, cyborgs, women, engineered and companion animals. More recently, roboethics is the topic of many conferences, books and committees. It’s time to discuss our co-existence.
(image from wikimedia commons of Karin Schaefer’s art and does not imply any endorsement of my opinion)
Natalie Tran exposes some of the dilemmas of being a female Iron Man. She doesn’t fit in the suit. It is kind of awesome using it to iron and launder in. I know the Incredibles went into the domesticity vs superhero space but it could do with a lot more exploring! I love that Natalie took over the suit and became Iron Man and I adore that she explained how she couldn’t actually fit. There are so many engineering and medical design issues around women not being able to use things designed by men for men.
Think seat belts and airbags – they had to introduce legislation to amend lethal design! Think painkillers and most drugs that are tested only on male mice – no allowance for different hormonal reactions. Think joint replacements designed on a male skeleton. The list of things not designed for women is longer and more serious than you’d imagine, so go Nat, Iron Man/Woman, whatever. The discussion of gender roles in robotics has a great starting point here.
from the article excerpted below, I would say we have become the sex organs of the 3D printer, which exists only to replicate.. and to replicate itself rather than anything useful!
But what are these machines actually good for? PR representatives for HP and Stratasys make it clear that their new machines are for mechanical engineers and designers to make mock-ups and prototypes of new ideas (and for educators teaching the next generation, who will likely work in a world where 3-D fabrication is commonplace), but not for consumers: Despite HP’s reputation for building high-end consumer printers, this is not one of them.
And although the fully assembled machines have established a strong reputation for reliability, do-it-yourselfers must beware the 3-D equivalent of the paper jam, which often involves scattered blobs of solidified plastic, smoking circuit boards, or half-melted motor mounting brackets. Internet forums and builder blogs are full of stories about hours spent rebuilding extruders, days tweaking the alignment of build platforms, and nights rewriting the software that “slices” designs into layers that can be built up on top of one another without drooping or warping or overtaxing a printer’s tiny CPU. There is even a cottage industry of higher-strength spare parts for the kit components that are most likely to fail. If atoms are indeed the new bits, as the futurati have declared, then consider what the world will be like when mechanical objects are as buggy as the typical piece of software.
Indeed, at the hacker level, the most popular print runs seem to be 3-D printer parts. If you want something built for use, you might have better luck shipping your design to one of the rapid-fabrication services that have sprung up all over the world.
The robots are cutting in on our dance moves.
We were at RoboCup Junior NSW the day before this article and I’m afraid we didn’t get to see any NAO dance troupes but the dance competition is so huge that it’s spread over two days. I enjoyed the Rescue and Soccer sections but mainly I’m fascinated over the relative hierarchy of robot occupations. Dance and entertainment is increasingly popular as a robot activity but low down on the value scale. Which mimics human values of course. My thesis will be examining this transfer of human values to robotics in a range of ways.
Check out the competitions to help design the skin/shape of PAL’s next humanoid robot, on heels of competition to solicit applications/uses. Crowdsourcing at work.
btw. I’m wondering if the life in the lab blog idea/title was inspired by Bruno Latour?