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Transmission in Motion

Saturday 25th May – Keynote Lecture

*For more information about the panels and demonstrations please click here*

“More than an Object” – Petra Gemeinboeck (UNSW) & Rob Saunders (Falmouth University/University of Sydney)

Robots are set to be all around us—at work, at home, in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They are said to be our drivers, couriers, receptionists, managers, soldiers, teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, and lovers. For these machines to perform their—now distinctly—human roles, our robot-assisted future will, perhaps ironically, rely on engineers being able to define ‘what human is’ (Wajcman, 2016; Suchman, 2007). This futuristic vision is already beginning to take form, with the majority of ‘social robots’ we see in research labs and the media mimicking human features—often cute or stereotypically gendered. Our ongoing research project Machine Movement Lab (MML) seeks an alternative pathway to imagining and materially enacting human-machine relations. MML develops an arts-led approach to human-robot interaction that explores the relational and performative potential of movement, building on dancers’ bodily ways of thinking (deLahunta et al, 2012) and concepts of embodied social interaction (Lindblom, 2015), distributed agency (Barad, 2007; Suchman, 2007) and kinesthetic empathy (Meekums, 2012). Embracing the difference of machinic embodiment, our approach aims to create machine-like performers able to partake in the dynamic enactment of social agency by placing movement at the center of our social encounters with machines. To do this, we have developed an embodied mapping approach that harnesses performers’ bodily imagination and movement skills for designing robots and their capacity to learn how to move in delicate yet machinic ways. Our first robotic object is an unassuming cube that—playfully swiveling across space or precariously teetering on one edge before rambunctiously bumping onto the ground—opens up an ambiguous zone between subject and object.

In this lecture, we will discuss our project and related research and argue the potentials of an arts-led approach against a background of dominant practices in social robotics and critical views from STS. This discussion will lead to an in-depth exploration of how our object-in-motion ‘becomes social’, embedded in the situation of encounter.

Petra Gemeinboeck is an artist and researcher exploring our entanglements with machines. She is a Senior Researcher at the Creative Robotics Lab, National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW | Art and Design, AU; and holds a Senior Research Fellow position at the MetaMakers Institute, Falmouth University, UK.

Rob Saunders is a researcher working across creative AI and creative robotics. He is Associate Professor of Computational Creativity at the Games Academy, Falmouth University, UK; and a Senior Research Fellow at the Design Lab, School of Architecture, Design, and Planning, University of Sydney, AU.

This research is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant (DP160104706) with Partner Investigator Maaike Bleeker (Utrecht University).