Abstract - The Information Society 31(3)

SPECIAL ISSUE: Beyond Industrial Robotics: Social Robots Entering Public and Domestic Spheres


The Contemporary Appeal of Artificial Companions: Social Robots as Vehicles to Cultural Worlds of Experience

Michaela Pfadenhauer

“Universal projection” is the term Thomas Luckmann uses to denote man's innate capacity to project his own “living body” onto everything he encounters in the world, and lists a number of qualities that cancel the projection. For example, the lack of perceptible transformations on the outside of the object is perceived as an indication of the absence of a responsive inside. This list can serve as a how-not-to guide to building that piece of advanced technology known nowadays as an “artificial companion”. Drawing the border of the social world alongside that of the human world—which is typical of Western modernity—is not an ontological given but rather an evolutionary outcome, i.e., the result of social construction. The de-socialization of large parts of the life-world leads to its de-animation, which is closely linked to the emergence and organization of a separate religious symbolic reality. The tendency to endow objects with qualities reminiscent of living subjects contrasts markedly with this. The possibility of programming advanced machines in accordance with one's own wishes, and machines' “ability to learn,” appear to play an important role in the ascription process. Social scientists recognize one of the origins of this development in the meta-process of individualization. From a psychoanalytical perspective, modern Westerners are suffering from relationship fatigue. This fatigue prompts us to endeavor to substitute human relationships with relationships with “nonhumans”. Mediatized communication practices are seen to have a supportive effect in this regard. The paper will discuss some of these interpretations and contrast them with an alternative hypothesis on the appeal of artificial companions. 


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