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Technological Animism

The Uncanny Personhood of Humanoid Machines

Kathleen Richardson


This article analyzes the role of animism in the creation and production of humanoid robots. In Japan and the United States, robotic science has emerged from fictional sources and is enmeshed with fictional models, even when developed in advanced technoscientific facilities. Drawing on the work of Sigmund Freud and Masahiro Mori, I explore the robot as an ‘uncanny’ doppelgänger that is liminally situated between the human and non-human. Cultural depictions of robots, particularly in written and visual fiction, reflect Freudian fears of the ‘double’ as the annihilating other. I propose the concept of ‘technological animism’ to explore how fiction and technoscience co-construct each other, with roboticists drawing inspiration from positive fictional models, as among Japanese scientists, or frequently rejecting such models, as among their North American colleagues.