What a Vision: The Artificial Companion. A Piece of Vision Assessment Including an Expert Survey

Knud Böhle, Kolja Bopp

Abstract


The apparent career of the “companion“ metaphor in robotics research and the public debate about “artificial companions”, particularly in the health care sector, have raised the question, if and in which way the “artificial companion” (AC) can be understood as a (guiding) vision. To answer this question desk research and a survey of experts from companion projects have been carried out with. In terms of services provided by ACs monitoring, assistance and companionship are relevant. It will be shown that in the European R&D context the AC is an explicit and relevant vision labelling and guiding a specific long-term orientation of interdisciplinary research, which combines claims of AI, agent technologies and with the idea that the design of the interface should leverage knowledge about human-human relations. Optionally the AC-vision can be loaded with techno-futuristic visionary elements. From the point of view of Technology Assessment (TA) from which this article is written a vision analysis as presented is a prerequisite to enter into dialogue with actors in R&D and further with relevant actors in those application fields in which the new technology is to be introduced.

With respect to the analysis of visions we regard the term “socio-technical futures” (STF) as adequate for a discourse centred on the feasibility and desirability of technologies. We further argue that guiding visions and techno-futuristic visions are one subject when studying socio-technical futures. We further hold that the narrow discourse by those promoting and pushing a certain innovation and the broader discourse involving the public sphere are interrelated and together constitute the STF-discourse. For the analysis of socio-technical futures in the context of TA we propose a three tiers model of STF-discourse distinguishing a micro level addressing the design of technical artefact, a meso level addressing R&D, and a macro level where envisioned technical solutions are related to the solution of societal problems and to socio-political aims.


Keywords


Technology Assessment; vision assessment; technology futures; research policy; artificial companions; robotics; social robot; agents; metaphor; expert survey; human computer interaction

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