Technological Animism

The Uncanny Personhood of Humanoid Machines

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  • 1 De Montfort University kathleen.richardson@dmu.ac.uk
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Abstract

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.

Contributor Notes

Kathleen Richardson is a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR), De Montfort University, Leicester. Her research examines the development of robots as companions, therapists, friends, and sexual partners. She is also part of the Europewide DREAM project (Development of Robot-Enhanced Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders), a project developing therapeutic robots for helping children with autism in their social learning. She is the author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines (2015) and is currently working on another manuscript.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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