Over the coming decades it looks likely that robots of various types will enter the private and public spaces of our lives. This paper explores some of the sociological implications of the forecast arrival of robots. Starting from the argument that ‘robot’ is an ‘essentially contested concept’ - indeed one entangled with mythologies of AI – I consider robots through their conception to (mostly speculative) implementation. Like all machines and material systems, robots are socio-political artefacts, embroiled in our machine-metaphor engineering; our making the world through social imaginaries shaped by power hierarchies. I suggest work on design sociology and the ethics of invention can help us engage with desires for and designs of robots. We must also consider the ‘material agency’ of robots as algorithmic decision makers, debating the role of automation in/as social organisation, and whether emergent forms of automation are a special case (they likely are, from a certain point of view, but we must avoid technological fatalism). Finally, there are the ‘enveloping’ effects of robots, how the introduction of robots will shape our proximities; our physical interactional closeness, our location within forms of social organisation (hierarchies and inequalities), and the symbolic affectivity that accompanies this, with regard to our sense of belonging, inclusion and exclusion. The robots of the near-future will not be the stuff of science fiction, but there is the potential for them to have a significant societal impact. For this reason they need careful sociological analysis.
|Publication status||In preparation - 2020|