James Auger

Why Robot?

PhD Abstract
One of the enduring objects used to represent the technological future is the robot. This legacy means that its promise has the ability to evolve in accordance with our societal and cultural dreams and aspirations. It can reflect the current state of technological development, our hopes for that technology and also our fears; fundamentally though, after almost a century of media depictions and corporate promises, the robot is yet to enter our homes and lives in any meaningful way.
This thesis begins by asking the question: how does an emerging technology (such as robotic) become a domestic product? In addressing this issue I draw from the theory of domestication and the method of speculative design to describe three possible technological journeys: how technology does not, does and could become a domestic product.
1. Technology does not make the transition from laboratory to domestic life.
Robots have made countless departures from the habitat of the research laboratory, apparently headed towards the domestic habitat, but the vast majority never arrive. This observation leads to the identification of a third habitat and the current destination for the majority of proposed domestic robots – robot-related imaginaries. In this theatre-like environment, robots exist as either promises or warnings of a potential technological future. The habitat includes technology fairs, laboratory open houses, news articles and the films and novels of science fiction. I conclude by suggesting reasons why these visions of the future so often fail to become domestic products.
2. Technology does make the transition from laboratory to domestic life.
Borrowing from the science of ecology and biological concepts of evolution and domestication, I make an analogy between the shift of habitats that occurs when an organism successfully goes through the process of artificial selection (natural to domestic) and the transition an emerging technology makes in order to become a suitable product for domestic use (laboratory to domestic).
3. How technology could make the transition from laboratory to domestic life.
This section makes up the core of the thesis as I describe speculative design and how it can be used to present more plausible depictions of near-future technological applications. By stepping out of the normative relationship that ties technological development to commercial markets, speculative design opens a space for alternative perspectives, critical reflection and an examination of contemporary and near-future technological application.
Throughout the thesis these theoretical investigations run parallel to the practice-based element, allowing for interplay between the two. This resulted in three projects that exemplify the speculative design approach applied to robots, inviting dialogue and contemplation on what a preferable robotic future might be.

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots