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Intimate Technologies: The Ethics of Simulated Relationships


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This paper considers the complex relationship between ethics and social technologies. It is particularly concerned with what it means to be intimate or share ideas of intimacy with robots and avatars. Looking to the world of theatre and situating our ethical framework within two specific plays we are able to examine new technological narratives that inspire critical reflection on our current and future relationships, sexual taboos and ethical practices. It also poses the question of the role of the arts in preparing society for dramatic technological and social shifts that challenge what we might think of current ideas of what it means to be human and values that have troubled debates between the biological and the artificial. Such shifts are not gender, or diversity free and we recognize that ethical aspects of technology are always person-dependent, culturedependent and situation-dependent. Within ethics, discussions of privacy and identity move to the foreground of our discussions.
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Intimate Technologies: The Ethics of Simulated Relationships
Stacey Pitsillides
University of Greenwich
Janis Jefferies
Goldsmiths, University of London
This paper considers the complex relationship between ethics
and social technologies. It is particularly concerned with what
it means to be intimate or share ideas of intimacy with robots
and avatars. Looking to the world of theatre and situating our
ethical framework within two specific plays we are able to
examine new technological narratives that inspire critical
reflection on our current and future relationships, sexual taboos
and ethical practices. It also poses the question of the role
of the arts in preparing society for dramatic technological and
social shifts that challenge what we might think of current ideas
of what it means to be human and values that have troubled
debates between the biological and the artificial. Such shifts are
not gender, or diversity free and we recognize that ethical
aspects of technology are always person-dependent, culture-
dependent and situation-dependent [1]. Within ethics,
discussions of privacy and identity move to the foreground of
our discussions.
Situating Ethics in Technological Futures
Science fiction has often been used as a medium for
understanding the emotional and ethical conditions of
new and developing technologies [2]. Furthermore,
robots and avatars are a recurrent theme in the science
fiction landscape, Famous examples such as William
Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and Neal Stevenson’s
Snow Crash (1992) define the avatar and have inspired
cybernetic dreams and the languaging of techno-spiritual
transcendence [3]. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)
defined much of our aesthetics around robotics and Isaac
Asimov’s I, Robot has become a touchstone when
discussing themes of robotics and Artificial Intelligence
(henceforth AI) and still informs some of the policy and
ethical guidelines around robotics sixty-five years after
its original publication in 1950 [4]. In the 21st century,
films like Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), Alex Garland’s Ex
Machina (2015) as well as the recent hit television drama
Humans (2015, Channel 4, UK) push the conflict with
and negotiation of technology in our lives to legitimately
change the way we comprehend what it means to be
human. For example, in Humans Anita is a robot who
has sex with the father of the family that has bought her,
and in Ex Machina the characters want to have sex with
Ava, the humanlike robot whose intelligence is
inherently humanlike. Ava inspires very human feelings:
lust, adoration and empathy from the men.
It is this correlation between the technological or even
biological superiority of AI fictions in I, Robot, Humans
or Ex Machina that drive us to redefine the technological
other. The technological creature in these cases is used to
simulate our own very human, existential questions,
which allow us to view them as models for reflecting on
humanity as an outsider. Taken altogether, what we’re
seeing is both the horror at techno-infiltration coupled
with a deep disgust at how much we seem to like it. The
fact is people already fall in love with fictional
characters, even though there is no chance to meet and
interact with them. Like social networking and the email
capabilities of the Internet revolution, robots and avatars
are progressively surrounding us in our professional lives
as well as our professional sphere.
Robots are already taking care of our elderly and
children and there are few studies that consider the
ethical implications of such care in the long term. Sherry
Turkle is an exception. She has been a key theorist in the
developing field of social robotics for over 40 years. As
a professor of social science and psychology she
maintains a profound interest in the inner working of the
human mind. This includes the way that modelling the
human mind on technology and technology on human
interaction is affecting psychological theory and
changing not just our engagement with technology but
with each other [5]. Through monitoring the
relationships people form with robots over a series of
clinical trials, Turkle warns that the immersiveness of
these relationships and the subsequent downgrading of
the human will allow strong attachments to be formed
that may replace other forms of human interaction,
creating the illusion of companionship. She cites specific
examples such as PARO1 a therapeutic robot for the
elderly, and AIBO, Tamagotchi and Furby as children’s
toys that stretch and re-form our definitions of
authenticity, life and companionship. As Rosalind Picard
has noted "The greater the freedom of a machine, the
more it will need moral standards"[6].
In addition to Turkle’s cautions about how humans
live in a technological environment, other theorists, such
as Becker, Crutzen and Duffy have examined the socio-
technical aspects of human-computer interaction, others
like Veruggio and Operto have opened up the question of
ethics in interdisciplinary discourse in the field of
applied ethics in robotics and the issues
surrounding humankind and autonomous machines.
Their paper in the International Review of Information
Ethics (2006) offers a comprehensive view on current
discourses, focusing on how far can we go to embody
ethics in a robot? Is it right to talk about “emotions” and
“personality” of robots and the anthropomorphization of
machines? [7]
In chapter 3 of Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974)
Robert Nozick introduces Moral Constraints and the
State [8]. From a political philosophy perspective he
opens up a range of questions surrounding morality and
how the state in one form or another may deal with the
issues of developing a good moral framework within
their specific political systems. In this section he
introduces two key ideas that are useful when examining
our developing relationships with robots and avatars.
Firstly touching upon the ethics of animal-human
interaction; Are there “any limits to what we may do to
animals? [And] have animals the moral status of mere
objects (pp.35). He debates the fact that some higher
animals should be given more weight but concedes that it
is difficult to define which animals are higher and how
one might measure this. He also begins to break down
some of the defined boundaries between humans and
animals and discusses how violence, pleasure and pain in
relation to these begin to blur the boundaries and moral
conditions. He claims that “once they exist, animals too
may have certain claims to certain treatment” (pp 39).
Might this not be the case for robots too, that once they
exist we give them our form, eye tracking, AI or other
empathy inducing features that we may begin to
categorise higher forms of robots that have gained an
ethically ambiguous status within our society? In Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) Philip K. Dick
presents this debate through both human and animal
robots, within a society that has clear moral guides that
states that empathy can be tested for and measured as the
key feature that defines the treatment and status of
electronic and non-electronic humans and the
authenticity of animals and practises of care. This puts
into dialogue notions of the Posthuman and the ethical
application of non-anthropocentric thinking [9] into
conversation with debates on robotics.
In the same chapter Nozick introduces the concept
of the Experience Machine as a thought experiment. This
experiment asks if there was a machine that could not
only simulate but convincingly “stimulate your brain so
that you would think and feel that you were writing a
great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting
book,” would we plug in? In Nozick’s existential
argument he states that there is a difference between
wanting to do certain things and simply having the
experience of them. He claims that it is not only
experience that we value as human beings and plugging
in would rob us, not only of our identity as a particular
kind of person, but also our ability to have an impact in
the world. He then develops the argument further by
asking if we adapt the experience machine to a
transformative machine and through this we could
transform into whatever kind of person we would like to
be, while still being us, would we plug in? And beyond
this if we then created a results machine that would allow
us to additionally make a difference to the world, would
we plug in? Nozick asserts that we should not be looking
for the right formula or condition that would make
plugging in a valid option for we cannot stimulate from
within the brain the authenticity “to live (an active verb)
ourselves” (pp.45). When considering the role and
policing of avatars in line with developments into full
body immersion [10], we must once again consider
whether in specific cases Nozick’s condition of plugging
in may become more attractive or even more moral when
society denies us the possibility to live as ourselves. This
may be particularly pertinent in the case of sexual
perversions but more broadly this may apply to anyone
who feel unaccepted by those who socially define them.
Plugging in may become not only tempting but a refuge
from society, a better way for someone to live
themselves (as Nozick suggests), even if they are aware
that it is virtual. This is something to consider in the case
of The Nether play discussed within the following
The above examples give an insight into how
avatars and social robotics have challenged some of the
most fundamental and personal understandings of the
way we form and sustain relationships. We believe it is
important to look beyond generalising views of
technology and consider a couple of situated examples
that complicate current utopian or dystopian views on
technological intimacy.
Ethics, Performance & Technology: Body
Narratives that support Moral Ambiguity
The main focus of this section is to discuss and pull out
key strands from two current plays that were performed
in Edinburgh and London in 2015; Spilikin: A Love Story
[11] and The Nether [12]. These plays both deal
specifically with technology, ethics and the body. This is
achieved by the actors performing narratives of near
future robotic and avatar-based scenarios. Audiences are
forced to examine current and future ethical practices
around complex issues such as: dementia, robotics, care,
virtual reality (simulation), paedophilia, cooperate
ethical protocol and the formation of emotional
relationships with technological ‘others’. In other words,
how we understand the emerging and future technologies
surrounding us - particularly how (sexual) companion
robots and the policing of cybersex will affect us and the
society in which we live.
Emotional and sexual relationships between
humans and robots are the concern of Matthias Scheutz
(2012) who has clearly identified dangers that robots,
specifically designed for eliciting human emotions and
feelings, could lead to emotional dependency or even
harm. He discusses several experiments are discussed
that show that humans are affected by a robot's presence
in a way "that is usually only caused by the presence of
another human." (p. 210). However, in the case of
human-robot interaction, the emotional bonds are
unidirectional and could be exploited [13] whilst David
Levy looks at future robot prostitutes. Men pay (mostly)
women for sex in the ‘real world’ and Levy considers the
ethics of robot prostitution and speaks of "the knowledge
that what is taking place is nothing 'worse' than a form of
masturbation" (p. 228) [14].
Blay Whitby (2012) directly addresses Levy when
he considers how social isolation might drive people to
robots for love and affection. Whitby says, "peaceful,
even loving, interaction among humans is a moral good
in itself", and "we should distrust the motives of those
who wish to introduce technology in a way that tends to
substitute for interaction between humans." (p. 238). He
therefore suggests that robot lovers and caregivers are
political as well as ethical topics, rather than providing
simply technological solutions to the challenges of the
modern world [15].
Socially, imagining how to befriend the robot or
avatar allows a re-examination of how contemporary
societies value and police, either socially or legally, the
actions of individuals and groups. Cognitively it also
makes us re-evaluate how we understand ourselves, one
another and our relationships with the outside world,
which are opened up to be reframed in the context of the
robot or avatar companion [5]. The moral ambiguity of
Spilikin: A Love Story and The Nether is also important.
Neither play takes a position of what is right, although it
may be said that both plays begin with a situation where
personal morals rather than societal consensus around
technology can easily be applied. Spilikin focuses on a
robot caring for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and
The Nether deals with childlike avatars that perform
sexual and sadistic activities for paying customers.
The Nether begins with the interrogation of Mr
Sims aka ‘Papa’ whose Hideaway is a virtual world in
the Nether. As the play develops we see that the
customers who use the Hideaway become so addicted to
it that they may be tempted to abandon real life
altogether, getting themselves hooked up onto life
support machines and “crossing over” to spend all their
time in the virtual world where it is now possible to
experience such sensations as taste, smell and sex. But in
the outside world, the Nether’s own policing unit are
keeping an eye on things and the tough female
investigator Morris has brought in the owner of The
Hideaway where punters, retaining their anonymity by
adopting avatars, are able to have sex with virtual
children. The Hideaway is one of the darkest corners of
The Nether, a paedophile's paradise created by a Mr Sims
who provides his guests with the perfect getaway for
them to explore the most extreme part of these darkest
fantasies - the abuse and murder of children.
Fig 1. The Nether, 2015, Stills of the play showing the offline
setting of the interrogation of Mr Sims aka Papa by Detective
Morris. Image sourced from:
As you delve deeper into this play it brings up a
range of important questions about simulation, intention
and what actually categorises sex or violence online [16].
Such as: If you create an avatar and your avatar is a
serial paedophile, is that a crime? And more specifically,
is a virtual paedophile as real a threat as a non-virtual
one, if there are no actual children involved? Might, on
the other hand, the virtual space be used as an option to
live out paedophilic and sadistic fantasies in order to
prevent them from being carried out in other ways? This
is what the main character Mr Sims suggests, stating that
he made The Hideaway in order that users may
experience their fantasies in a non-judgmental
environment without committing actual harm.” Morris
however is unwilling to accept this answer and questions
whether living out these fantasies could be a way of
testing the boundaries of extremity, claiming that the
cases of paedophilia reported have become more sadistic.
Mr Sims motives are also questionable when one
considers the fact that The Hideaway is at its heart a
business that will no longer accept you when you cannot
pay. The play also brings up a range of contemporary
debates around the definition of real and virtual,
particularly when the interrogation forces the characters
to face a physical act which replicas, in its exact
aesthetic and physical detail, the sex and violence of
their virtual world. It makes the audience question what
constitutes life, death and identity online, including the
personal representation of intimate emotions such as love
and loss in social virtual worlds and online games [17]
Spilikin: A Love Story is a play that was performed
during the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival2 and is going
on a national tour in the UK in 2016. The play is a
collaboration between Pipeline Theatre company and
Engineered Arts, whose RoboThesbian was the instigator
of this script. The story focuses on the past and present
of a woman with Alzheimer’s who lives with a robot, left
to her by her dead husband. Through a collection of
2 The cost involved in producing this play have been supported
by the Arts Council UK, locally sourced R&D and crowd
conversations with the robot the audience is drawn into
her story and is able to share her vulnerabilities and the
progression of her dementia in circumstances where she
is more or less aware of her husbands death. The robot
aids her in reliving her original meeting and developing
relationship with her husband in the past. Throughout the
play although the robot’s physical appearance, projected
face and mechanical body does not change, the widow
Sally is able to express a range of emotions towards him.
She engages with the robot in some instances as her
husband who she cares for by covering him with a
blanket and giving him his glasses, while at other times
he is the target of her confusion and resentment, seeing
the robot as an annoyance that she has to endure until her
husband comes home from his conference.
This story focuses on current issues of robotics and
care, particularly the integration of robots into care of the
elderly [5] [19]. But the story is able to draw us into this
debate in a deeper and more personal way by showing us
1) the uncomfortable relationship Sally has to the only
other real person who comes to see her in the play, a
technologist who fixes the robot and knew her husband
2) the fact that her husband knew he may inherit a
disease that caused his father to die young and was
through this experience already predisposed to thinking
about the future and the relationship he may come to
have with the mechanical robotic structures that he is
always shown to be tinkering with in the past 3) the
relationship she shared with her husband in the past and
her admiration of his work with robotics, it is clear that
her husband’s identity is strongly embodied by his
passion for robotics and thus the robot can be seen as a
fitting tribute to his memory 4) the fact that her husband
made the robot specifically for her and that this is clearly
an act of care and love on his part. It is an individual
robot for her who sings with her, confirms that she can
call him her husband and acts as a memory aid for her 5)
the materiality of the robot itself, as a being on stage
including the mechanical sounds and lights that are not
trying to emulate the gestures, movement or looks of her
Fig 2. Spilikin: A Love Story, 2015, Stills of the play showing
Sally’s emotions of love and fear towards the robot. Images
sourced from:
The breaking down of wide speculative scenarios,
in which ethics are taken from a collective perspective of
what is better for society into an individual story, shows
that ethics need to be situated in order to be evaluated.
Obviously this play does not suggest that robots should
be companions for every Alzheimer’s sufferer but it
offers a touching and intimate portrayal of a woman who
is for the majority of time able to take comfit in the
simulation of her past (memories) and her companion (a
robot). Engineered Arts’ director Will Jackson also states
that this was one of the main aims of the play: the
examination of “the ethical, moral and philosophical
ramifications of artificial intelligence and robots with
human-like characteristics... This play isn’t about
presenting one side or another, but about exploring the
issue in a nuanced, critical, human-centric way.” [20]
In a similar way, The Nether projects some of our
deepest social fears with the aim of interrogating
technology, projection and simulation. This play takes a
theme that has strong currents in public opinion and the
media, the issue of paedophilia. Many reviewers and
commentators 3 noted that The Nether is part procedural
police thriller and part evocation of the murky world of
the Internet. Some specific questions that were addressed
within these reviews were: How do you write a play
about the ethics of online existence? How do you stage a
virtual world? How do you police the entire Internet?
And how much of this part of our world do we know
about? This is what The Nether does. It questions what
are the boundaries of immersion, when does play
become real, what role do corporations have in policing
their networks and how does the materiality of the
3 See:
sadler/nether-royal-court-theatre_b_5634521.html, accessed
Nether, as opposed to the flat projections used within the
real world detective scenes (see Fig 1), help to enforce
our view that the Nether is as real as any other
Fig 3. The Nether, 2015, Stills of the play showing Papa and
Iris having a picnic in The Hideaway inside The Nether. Image
sourced from:
The Nether is compelling and seductive partly
because of what the stage designer Es Devlin does, for
both the Royal Court Theatre and it’s transfer to the
West End stage in London, is to make the online world a
magical reality. There are beautiful sunlit poplar trees, a
quaint Victorian styled, 19th-century house with elks’
heads on the walls and a jovial proprietor and host called
Papa, who offers a beautiful virtual girl for the
delectation of his paying guests. After they have had sex
with her they are invited to slay her with an axe.
Whilst the plays we cite focus predominantly on the
elderly, Holloway and Valentine’s research into the way
in which young people engage with the Internet offers a
useful example of what robots might look like beyond
heteronormativity [21] They found that anonymity online
allows “users to construct ‘alternative’ identities,
positioning themselves differently in online space than
off-line space” - identities that are both played with and
at times abandoned. This anonymity offers control,
flexibility, as well as “time to think about what they want
to say and how they want to represent themselves.”
Despite this, they also found that the off- and online
worlds of children are not utterly disconnected, but
rather “mutually constituted”. Nonetheless, legal and
policy questions also arise, on which there has been little
attention to date [22]. The first issue concerns not only
the moral, but also the legal status and identity of the
robot. Notably, and perhaps taking a cue from Asimov
[23], some countries have begun to develop codes of
ethics for robots [24]. The robot’s status will in turn
influence how other areas of the law might apply or
develop. What about issues of consent? Might a sex
robot be the instrument by which a sexual offence is
committed by a human perpetrator? Can it be considered
fungible property, which can be permissibly sold or
impermissibly stolen? And, finally, privacy questions
also arise: For example, what data can the robot
legitimately collect and distribute? [25]
These questions are what the two plays are probing.
In The Nether the heterosexual and elderly men cannot
distinguish between the worlds they inhabit. Pretence
and belief are inverted in a magically seductive world
but one in which the detective Morris argues that a crime
is a crime in whichever reality is it committed, although
Sims reminds her that she herself is drawn to the Nether
in her sexual past, questioning why sex with a simulated
child is different to sex with a simulated centaur or
demon why Morris was “ashamed […] at the idea of
having sex with an image.” This leads Morris to question
the usefulness of the body in the future and whether the
Nether gives us the opportunity to “design the way that
we exist.” She also slips into the seduction and magic of
the Hideaway herself, falling for the simulated child Iris
while undercover. Whereas in Spilikin Sally, the
elderly widow can not always tell reality from memory
or imagined simulation due to her Alzheimer's and is
thus able to take comfit in a being which does not
question her understanding of reality. In both plays the
questions of acceptance and social policing of norms are
as much up for debate as the embedded ethical questions
surrounding technology and the implementation of
intimate technologies. Technologies are never politically,
socially or cognitively neutral [26]. Technology can
augment or challenge established assumptions that can
be made in understanding the world around us [27] but
are we ready to change with it?
Arts, Culture & Complexity: how can we
broaden the debate on technology and ethics
This section focuses on the impact of the arts and arts
research can have in widening cultural understanding of
robotics and virtual reality, including the role of the
avatar, through participatory and personal engagement in
installations, workshops, exhibitions and plays. These art
forms have the ability to provide people with engaging
and meaningful encounters with new and emerging
technology that may shape their perceptions beyond
some of the classical aesthetic or behavioral tropes used
within mainstream science fiction.
Prendergast in her paper Utopian Performatives
and the Social Imaginary: Toward a New Philosophy of
Drama/Theater Education [28] argues that theatre can be
a powerful tool to explore and play with notions of
Utopia and Dystopia in a shared space. Theatre gives us
the possibility to experience our darkest fears and
deepest desires in an intimate and shared space. It is this
closeness, the proximity to the actors, and staging that
makes this experience so immersive. The use of
technology within the theatre space e.g. the projections
used in The Nether and the live RoboThesbian in Spilikin
provide an element of enchantment [29] to these
experiences that further emphasises their dramatology
and critical reflections on simulation and humanity.
The Nether also hosted a series of post-play public
debates that aimed to gage the audience’s developing
views and opinions after their experiences of the play. At
the Duke of York’s Theatre, London on the 10th March
2015, Susie Hargreaves (Chief Executive of the charity,
Internet Watch Foundation) and Jamie Bartlett (Author
of The Dark Net and director at the UK think tank
Demos) discussed the subject of policing the Internet.
About 30 people were in the audience on that evening to
engage with Bartlett. The dark net was the main focus of
his talk as Bartlett has immersed himself in a disturbing
journey through the furthest recesses of the Internet
where users and payments are untraceable and anything
is possible. On the other hand, Hargreaves was able to
shine some light on the political lobbying which has got
Google to donate £1m to the Internet Watch Foundation
in 2013 to support its work on child sex abuse. Out of the
abyss of the dark net comes a debate about ethical
technologies and ethics, in relation to a public debate
around intimacy (or sex) with robots and avatars, which
is part of a campaign that reflects human principles of
dignity, mutuality and freedom.
Installations, arts based research and exhibitions
can also be powerful tools in testing public readiness and
perceptions of new technology particularly in respect of
how audiences and participants think about their own
bodies. As they are not necessarily narrative-based they
offer visceral ways to alter our predispositions about
the relationships we may build with new technologies.
In 1995 Anne Balsamo noted in her book Technologies
of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg women [30], that
the process of "reading the body," the body in high-tech
is as gendered as ever but Jones and Arning state that
“today [the body] and its visceral surroundings are
studded with earphones, zooming in
psychopharmaceuticals, extended with prostheses,
dazzled by odourless tastes and tasteless odours,
transported by new media, and buzzing with ideas [31].
This has prompted several art projects, exploring
these bodied experiences, among them Anna Dumitriu
and Alex May have been collaborating with Professor
Kerstin Dautenhahn and Dr Michael L Walters from the
Adaptive Systems Research Group (The University of
Hertfordshire,UK) to investigate the social robotics that
they make. Dumitriu and May’s work focuses on raising
public debate around the ethical issues in contemporary
robotics and led to the development of a serious of
provocative heads for humanoid robots. The interactive
robot head is the ultimate in personal robotics. It can take
on the appearance of any user to provide a potentially
comforting sense of recognition and familiarity, as can
aid users in every aspect of their lives. TheFamiliar
head uses a Microsoft Kinect to take features from
visitors faces and combining them with features from
their friends and family’s faces based on their proximity
to the robot. As you approach, it turns to you and begins
to change. The robot tells you “I like your face” or “I
love you”. Of course this can also lead to a feeling of
discomfort known in robotics as “the uncanny valley”
[32] (Mori, 19704), where users feel a sense of repulsion
as robots become very humanlike (in this case very like
themselves and their companions) but stopping short of
being wholly human. The depth camera in the Kinect can
be used to measure this effect in operation by recording
how visitors approach the robot. It looks most like the
person that it sees most in order to promote bonding, a
kind of intimacy that some visitors found unnerving as
they experienced the work shown at FutureFest, London
in March 2015.
Two further projects are relevant here, The Blind
Robot and me and my shadow. These projects,
commissioned and produced by UK design collective
body>data>space, do challenge our current social
consensus of what a robot or an avatar is and how we
may engage with them in the future. They deal with a
more nuanced approach to technological intimacy less
fantastical then science fiction and less corporate then
products built for the market.
These two installations are of two programmes of
work, Robots and Avatars 5 and MADE, directed by
body>data>space, and created with the support of the EU
Cultural Programme, NESTA and others. A series of
installations, exhibitions, workshops, and reports that act
as a portal for developing a cross section of dialogue
between the public, the technology industry and
academic partners. The art works also become instigators
for a range of debates about technology, including the
development of a series of reports that chart new
protocols of Behaviors and Ethics [33].
Fig 4. The Blind Robot, Louis Philippe Demers, Touch and
Interactive Robotics (2012 2014). Image sourced from:
4 Masahiro Mori, Professor at the Tokyo Institute of
Technology, wrote an essay on how he envisioned people's
reactions to robots that looked and acted almost human. In
particular, he hypothesized that a person's response to a
humanlike robot would abruptly shift from empathy to
revulsion as it approached, but failed to attain, a lifelike
appearance. This descent into eeriness is known as the uncanny
valley. It first appeared in an obscure Japanese journal called
Energy in 1970. More recently, however, the concept of the
uncanny valley has rapidly attracted interest in robotics and
other scientific circles as well as in popular culture. Some
researchers have explored its implications for human-robot
The Blind Robot 6 is a robot that communicates
predominantly through touch. Demers states that this
work is about the development of degrees of human
engagement when a social robot intimately touches a
person. This work originated from a recently known
cultural artifact, the robotic arm, which has been
transformed [in this art work] from a cold high-precision
tool into a fragile, imprecise, sensual and emotionally
loaded agent[34]. The idea of linking the robot to the
very human disability of blindness also helps with this
aim as it evokes vulnerability on behalf of the robot and
gives the touch a higher status that helps to create a level
of trust and intimacy between human and robot.
Fig 5. me and my shadow, Joseph Hyde, Phil Tew, Ghislaine
Boddington, MADE (Mobility for Digital Arts in Europe)(2007
2013). Image sourced from:
me and my shadow7 is an immersive installation
that engages us through focusing on the body and
movement in an aesthetically fluid virtual space rather
then acting within a specific identity or scenario, as in
The Nether. It is this centralizing of the body with the
interaction that creates a poetic link to the metaphorical
concept of the shadow, that is able to transform our
6 Blind Robot was commissioned by Robots and Avatars, a co-
operation project between body>data>space (London, UK),
KIBLA (Maribor/Slovenia) and AltArt (Cluj Napoca/Romania)
with the support of the Culture Programme of the European
Union (2007-2013). UK partners - FACT Liverpool
(Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology) and National
Theatre (London). Supported using public funding by the Arts
Council of England. Robots and Avatars was originally
conceived and produced by body>data>space with
partners NESTA in 2009. Blind Robot premiered in Kibla,
Maribor as part of Maribor 2012: European Capital of
Culture from 5th to 30th October 2012.
7 me and my shadow was commissioned by MADE, a co-
operation project between centre des arts d’Enghien-les-Bains
(Paris, France), body>data>space (London, UK), Transcultures
(Mons, Belgium) and boDig (Istanbul, Turkey), with the
support of the Culture Programme of the European Union
(2007-2013). UK partners - body>data>space and National
Theatre (London) in association with Bath Spa University.
Supported using public funding by the Arts Council of
England. Connecting real-time audiences between London,
Paris, Brussels and Istanbul, me and my shadow premiered at
the National Theatre from 10 26 June 2012 during the
Olympic celebrations.
perception of disembodied technical immersion into an
extension of our own body’s experiences. There is an
intimate connection formed between the movement and
the display that challenges our understanding of what it
is to be intimate with technology.
Closing Statements
Within this paper we seek to widen the definition of
intimacy in relation to ideas of technological intimacy.
Whilst we have considered the role of theatre in
exploring specific issues we would argue that the arts in
general have a key role to play in bridging of the divide
between the biological and the artificial.
By taking on the ethical debates that relate to
developing new social norms and political
understandings of simulation and robotics, through the
arts, we consider how ambiguous narratives can help us
to think through complex problems. This gives us more
personal experiences challenging the boundaries of how
intimacy is expressed within society.
Through this paper we would assert that the arts
have a key role to play in the future development of
technologies and technological narratives for public
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... Digital technologies are becoming intimate [1][2][3][4], and they are starting to touch every aspect of our lives, including the sexual ones. It is now possible to touch each other intimately and to provide tactile stimuli through a digital system thanks to the existence of teledildos [5]. ...
Full-text available
This paper aims to analyze the effects of the introduction of teledildos on our sexual lives according to postphenomenology and mediation theory. Digital technologies are getting very intimate by mediating even our sexual intercourse, as in the case of teledildonics. According to postphenomenology and mediation theory, technologies are never neutral, but they change how we live and how we relate to the world around us. Thus, we need to ask how these intimate technologies are going to affect us in the way we live our intimacy and relationships. This paper will show how teledildonics will allow human beings to have sexual intercourse with every object around by turning them into sexually interactive "quasi-others", and how this change will affect the way we give meanings and values to love and sex in general. The first part of this paper will show the introduction of teledildonics will affect how we perceive the world around us and how we are tempted by it. The second part will highlight how even the meanings and values we give to sex and love will be shaped according to the new potentialities provided by teledildos.
This work aims to understand how a subject can be sentimentally and intimately self-realized by having a relationship with other people through computer technologies. We will analyze the relations binding together the subjects when their “presence” and “interactions” are digitally mediated thanks to a phenomenological analysis. In the first part, we will highlight the differences of using digital devices instead of having face-to-face meetings, especially in virtual worlds. In the second part, we will focus on how other digital devices differently mediate the relation between the subjects, and so we will show how some technologies like teledildo provide elements close to the ones we find in a face-to-face meeting while other technologies like virtual realities do not.
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Within this chapter we consider the emergence of new cultures and practices surrounding Death and Identity in the digital world. This will include a range of theory-based discussions, considering how we remember and document the ‘absence’ of information and how communities and individuals deal with the virtual identities of their loved ones after death. Thus highlighting the evolvement of digital practices in relation to public grief and the building of public (communal) identity, including the impact of digital ‘recording’ and ‘sharing’ of ones identity(s). Furthermore, we stress the relevance of the mediation of memory, discussing how mediation impacts ones own identity and the communal cultural identity of society at large. Finally we conclude by considering what role personal choice plays in the way we deal with digital data and more widely our digital selves after death.
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This chapter builds on concepts of embodiment and considers our relationship to our bodies and environment(s) through the construct of ‘posthumanism.’ By commenting on the relationship between death and the body we consider how our digital remains, both literal and affectual, may take the role of legacy continuing on and engaging, in some essence, with the living. This will include a central discussion on how concepts of Cartesian Dualism and Transhumanism have led to a futile search for immortality, as developed by modern understandings of the writings of Rene Descartes. This idea of aiming for literal immortality verses engaging with questions of mortality and trying to understand the relevance of what is left behind to our lives is developed through a discussion of two artists approach to technically informed body modification and how this ‘development’ of the bodies both dead and alive further informs the topic of Posthumanism. This leads on to the consideration of Tony Walters (1996) work on a New Model of Grief within which he discusses the importance within the bereavement process of constructing a durable biography. This idea has been developed through the psychological concept of continuing bonds, a topic that has been vastly altered by the new digital landscape becoming the norm rather then the exception. This chapter also seeks to reflect on how theories becoming prevalent within the Death Studies arena may provide a new framework for the developing field of End of Life research within Human Computer Interaction.
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Although critiques of humanism are not new, the currency of posthumanist discourse on the nonhuman - the animal, the environment, or the object - suggests rising concerns about humanity's place in the ecological order. This article interrogates Cary Wolfe's posthumanist framework as he approaches the questions of activism and agency in the context of animal ethics and disability politics. By drawing attention to the contradictions in his own commitments to rethinking human exceptionalism, I examine how Wolfe's appeal for a more compassionate account of ethics vis-a-vis the notion of 'trans-species empathy' can be more gainfully addressed through the work of feminist and quantum physicist Karen Barad. This essay contends that by preserving the difference between the human and the nonhuman (or animal) as something that is given rather than interrogated, the assumption of 'the human' as a self-contained identity is left unchanged and unchallenged.
The unique “Tokku” Special Zone for Robot-ics Empirical Testing and Development (RT special zone) originated in Japan. Since 2003, the world’s first RT special zone had already established in Fukuoka Prefecture, Fukuoka City and Kitakyushu City. At that time, Takanishi Laboratory, Humanoid Robotics Institute of Waseda University had conducted many empirical testing within several different spots of the special zone to evaluate the feasibility for bipedal humanoid robots on public roads from 2004 to 2007. It is also known as the world’s first public roads testing for bipedal robots. The history of RT special zone is merely 10 years long, but there are already many special zones established in Fukuoka, Osaka, Gifu, Kanagawa and Tsukuba. As the development of robotics and its submergence to the society expand, the importance of RT special zone as an interface for robots and society will be more apparent. In this paper, our main focus is to view the impacts of the “Tokku” special zone system to the human-robot co-existence society. We would like to make a systematic review for RT special zone, and further to investigate the relationship between RT special zone, robots and the law through a case study on legal impacts regarding bipedal humanoid robots in which the materials for the case study come from Waseda University’s experiment on WL-16RII and WABIAN-2R at the Fukuoka RT special zone.
Conference Paper
The paper examines the impact of robotics technology on contemporary legal systems and, more particularly, some of the legal challenges brought on by the information revolution in the fields of criminal law, contracts, and tort law. Whereas, in international humanitarian law, scholars and lawmakers debate on whether autonomous lethal weapons should be banned, robots are reshaping notions of agency and human responsibility in civil (as opposed to criminal) law. Although time is not ripe for the "legal personification" of robots, we should admit new forms of both contractual and tort liability for the behaviour of these "intelligent machines." After all, this is the first time ever legal systems will hold people responsible for what an artificial state-transition system "decides" to do.