Human-Machine Communication

Rethinking Communication, Technology, and Ourselves

by Andrea L. Guzman (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XX, 274 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 117


From virtual assistants to social robots, people are increasingly interacting with intelligent and highly communicative technologies throughout their daily lives. This shift from communicating with people to communicating with people and machines challenges how scholars have theorized and studied communication. Human-Machine Communication: Rethinking Communication, Technology, and Ourselves addresses this transition in how people communicate and who, or what, they communicate with and the implications of this evolution for communication research. Geared toward scholars interested in people’s interactions with technology, this book serves as an introduction to human-machine communication (HMC) as a specific area of study within communication (encompassing human-computer interaction, human-robot interaction, and human-agent interaction) and to the research possibilities of HMC. This collection includes papers presented as part of a scholarly conference on HMC, along with invited works from noted researchers. Topics include defining HMC, theoretical approaches to HMC, applications of HMC, and the larger implications of HMC for self and society. The research presented here focuses on people’s interactions with multiple technologies (artificial intelligence, algorithms, and robots) used within different contexts (home, workplace, education, journalism, and healthcare) from a variety of epistemological and methodological approaches (empirical, rhetorical, and critical/cultural). Overall, Human-Machine Communication provides readers with an understanding of HMC in a way that supports and promotes further scholarly inquiry in a growing area of communication research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: “What Is Human-Machine Communication, Anyway?” (Andrea L. Guzman)
  • Questions of Communication
  • Questioning the Role of Technology
  • Questioning Meaning-Making With Technology
  • How Have We Theorized Communicating With Machines?
  • Engineering, Computers, and Communication
  • Medium as Message and Messenger
  • Why Human-Machine Communication, Now?
  • The Technological
  • The Theoretical
  • The Institutional
  • What, Then, Is Human-Machine Communication?
  • HMC—An Area of Study Explained
  • HMC—A Concept Defined
  • HMC—The Questions Driving Research
  • The Most Important Question
  • Notes
  • References
  • 1. Animals, Humans, and Machines: Interactive Implications of Ontological Classification (Autumn P. Edwards)
  • Background
  • Review of Relevant Literature
  • Human-Machine Communication
  • Social Robots
  • The Natures of Animals, Humans, and Machines
  • Study
  • Ontological Classification
  • Grouping 1: Humans and Chimpanzees
  • Grouping 2: Humans and Robots
  • Grouping 3: Chimpanzees and Robots
  • Interactional Consequences of Ontological Classification
  • Was What Happened to hitchBOT Wrong?
  • What Is Wrong With Destroying a Robot Hitchhiker?
  • Robots as Other
  • Human and Robot as Kin
  • Human Stands Alone
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 2. Aliveness and the Off-Switch in Human-Robot Relations (Eleanor Sandry)
  • Theorizing Communication Between Humans and Robots
  • Relating to Social Robots as Humanlike Communicators
  • The New Breed of Social Robot
  • An Alternative Vision of the Social Robot
  • Phenomenology, Communication Theory, and Absolute Alterity
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 3. Child or Product? The Rhetoric of Social Robots (Leslie M. Fritz)
  • Rhetorical Analysis
  • The Framing of Jibo and Buddy
  • The Rhetoric of Jibo and Buddy
  • Materiality and Metaphor
  • Ethos and Identification
  • The Interpellative Power of Jibo and Buddy
  • The Visual Rhetoric of Jibo and Buddy
  • The Reception Context of Jibo and Buddy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 4. “I’ll Present to the Human”: Effects of a Robot Evaluator on Anticipatory Public Speaking Anxiety (Chad Edwards / Brett Stoll / Autumn P. Edwards / Patric R. Spence / Andrew Gambino)
  • Robotics in Education
  • Communication Apprehension
  • Anticipating Human-Computer Interaction
  • Testing Public Speaking Anxiety With a Robot Evaluator
  • The Experimental Design
  • Measuring Negative Attitudes Towards Robots
  • Measuring Public Speaking Anxiety
  • Procedures of the Experiment
  • Analyses
  • Discussion
  • Limitations and Future Directions
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 5. Presence Past and Future: Reflections on 25 Years of Presence Technology, Scholarship, and Community (Matthew Lombard)
  • Technology
  • Scholarship
  • Community
  • Future Presence
  • Technology
  • Scholarship
  • Community
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 6. Theorizing Verbally Persuasive Robots (S. Austin Lee / Yuhua (Jake) Liang)
  • Transactional Model of Human-Robot Communication
  • Persuasive Potential of Robots
  • Pre-giving Strategy
  • Sequential-Request Persuasive Strategy
  • Mechanism of Robot Persuasion
  • Robots Are Social Actors
  • Mindlessness
  • Future Directions
  • More Persuasion Strategies
  • Robot Credibility
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 7. Communicating With Robots: ANTalyzing the Interaction Between Healthcare Robots and Humans With Regards to Privacy (Christoph Lutz / Aurelia Tamò)
  • Robots in Healthcare
  • On Healthcare Robots and Privacy
  • Privacy Issue 1: (Independent) Mobility of Robots and Access to Private Spaces
  • Privacy Issue 2: Social Bonding With Robots
  • Privacy Issue 3: A Robot’s Access to Data and the Black Box Problem
  • Interactions Between Humans and Machines: HMC
  • Actor Network Theory
  • Setting the Stage: Two ANT Examples
  • Networks as a Method of Analysis
  • What ANT Offers for the Analysis of Robot-Patient-Interactions
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • Theoretical Implications
  • Shortcomings of ANT for the Analysis of Privacy With Healthcare Robots
  • Notes
  • References
  • 8. My Algorithm: User Perceptions of Algorithmic Recommendations in Cultural Contexts (Terje Colbjørnsen)
  • Culture, Taste, Quality, and Digital Media
  • What Are Algorithms?
  • How Users Perceive Algorithms
  • Method
  • Discussion of Findings
  • Perceptions of Quality and Relevance
  • Perceptions of Input/Output Mechanisms
  • Identification, Relationships, and Communication With Algorithms
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 9. A Robot Will Take Your Job. How Does That Make You Feel? Examining Perceptions of Robots in the Workplace (Patric R. Spence / David Westerman / Xialing Lin)
  • The Study
  • General Perceptions of Robots
  • Dangerous Jobs
  • Opportunities for Jobs in the U.S. and Developing Countries
  • Personal Advancement in the Workplace
  • Feelings When Communicating With Robots in the Workplace
  • Implications and Future Research Directions
  • References
  • 10. Communicating With Machines: Robots as the Next New Media (Sakari Taipale / Leopoldina Fortunati)
  • Background
  • Methods
  • Survey and Sample
  • Measures
  • Statistics
  • Results
  • Key Indicators of Not Being Afraid of Robots
  • Social Robots as the Next New Media in the Reproduction Sphere
  • Key Indicators of Not Being Afraid of Robots as Work Thieves
  • Emotional Relationship With Robots
  • Social Robots: The Next New Media?
  • Discussion and Final Remarks
  • Notes
  • References
  • 11. Ars Ex Machina: Rethinking Responsibility in the Age of Creative Machines (David J. Gunkel)
  • Responsibility 101
  • Instrumental Theory
  • The New Normal
  • Machine Learning
  • Computational Creativity
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • 12. Ethics in HMC: Recent Developments and Case Studies (Charles Ess)
  • Ethics and HMC? From (Positivist) Opposition to Complementarity and Convergence
  • Part I: From Positivism to Complementarity and Convergence
  • Part II: The Ethics of Sexbots
  • Concluding Comments
  • Notes
  • References
  • Volume Editor
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Figure 1.1. Numerical Summary of Grouping Decisions

Figure 5.1. Number of Search Results for “Telepresence” in Scholarly Databases by Year (as of June 2017)

Figure 5.2. Number of Search Results for 16 Presence Terms in Scholarly Databases by Year (as of June 2017)

Figure 6.1. Transactional Model of Human-Robot Communication

Figure 6.2. Comparison of Robots and Agents

Figure 6.3. Compliance Rate to the Larger Request

Figure 6.4. Functional Triad of Persuasive Technology

Figure 6.5. A Hypothesized Path Model

| xi →


Table 4.1. Means and Standard Deviations

Table 9.1. Results From Survey Questions

Table 10.1. The Areas of Life Where Europeans “Think That Robots Should Be Used as a Priority” (Unweighted)

Table 10.2. Ordered Logistic Models Predicting the Willingness to Have More Robots in Various Domains of Life (Coefficients and P-values Between Brackets)

Table 10.3. Ordered Logistic Model Explaining the Fear of Losing Jobs Because of Robots

| xiii →


This volume demarcates a new area of research within the larger study of communication—Human-Machine Communication (HMC). As I explain in greater detail in the introduction, the concept of human-machine communication is not new (it is more than a half-century old); however, the conceptualization of people’s interactions with various machines (artificial intelligence, robots, algorithms, industrial technologies, etc.) as communication by communication scholars with a collective focus on understanding the creation of meaning between human and machine through the process of message exchange between human and machine, the building of relationships among people and technology, and the resulting individual, societal, and cultural implications is novel.

This book is the product of the first HMC post-conference for communication scholars, “Communicating with Machines: The Rising Power of Digital Interlocutors in Our Lives,” that convened as part of the International Communication Association’s (ICA) conference in Fukuoka, Japan in June 2016. I spearheaded the conference along with Steve Jones, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC); David J. Gunkel, Northern Illinois University (NIU); Autumn P. Edwards, Western Michigan University; Chad Edwards, Western Michigan University; and Patric R. Spence, University of Kentucky. The conference was sponsored by the Department of Communication at UIC; the Department of Communication at NIU; the College of Communication & Information, School of Information Science at the University of Kentucky; School of Communication, Western Michigan University, and the Communication & Social Robotics Labs. The inaugural all-day event included paper and poster presentations, networking, and formal and informal discussions around building HMC research within the discipline. Steve Jones generously offered for the annual Steve Jones Internet Research Lecture, sponsored by ICA and the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research, to serve ← xiii | xiv → as the keynote presentation. Leopoldina Fortunati delivered the keynote, “Feminism, Labor and the Mechanization of Everyday Life.” Most of the chapters within this volume are developed from papers or topics presented by scholars at this event or submitted to it. I invited Matthew Lombard and Charles Ess to contribute chapters in their areas of expertise because of their important theoretical and philosophical scholarship in this area. The goal of this volume is not only to capture the questions raised and ideas discussed during the post-conference, and, thus, serve as a historical text, but also to showcase HMC research as it is emerging within communication. Still, what is included here is only a portion of the 22 papers and posters presented during the post-conference and is an even smaller representation of HMC research throughout communication that is continuing to grow.

The history of this book and the establishment of this area of research begins well before Fukuoka, Japan in 2016. Many of the people who are part of what is now called HMC already had been studying and theorizing aspects of people’s communication with technology, including social agents and robots, for years prior to the post-conference. My own interest in this area began with Apple’s release of Siri with the iPhone 4s in late 2011. Siri captivated me as a consumer and as a doctoral student in UIC’s communication department. Thinking about my own interactions with Siri, observing media portrayals regarding Siri, and listening to people’s reactions to Siri sparked my research interest in people’s conceptualizations of and relationships to AI technologies as communicators. It was during the research for my dissertation, Imagining the Voice in the Machine: The Ontology of Digital Social Agents, that I became aware of crucial gaps in communication scholarship and the need for increased opportunities for dialogue among scholars regarding the study of communication with different forms of technology. That communication scholars needed to pay greater attention to people’s interactions with machines was something that Steve Jones, my PhD dissertation advisor at UIC, had been talking about for some time, as had been David Gunkel, my MA thesis advisor at NIU.

From my perspective, the most pressing matter surrounding the study of people’s communication with devices and applications and the easiest to start rectifying was to get scholars doing this work into the same space to begin that scholarly dialogue. In late 2014, I approached Steve Jones about proposing a Blue Sky Workshop regarding human-machine communication as part of ICA’s annual conference. The goal of Blue Sky workshops is to give scholars a space to discuss shared issues or areas of research. David Gunkel was invited to serve as our third chair for the workshop, and I drafted the proposal. Several months later (and only a few hours after I had submitted my dissertation to my committee), Steve, David, and I were leading the ← xiv | xv → workshop, “Beyond Human: Developing Human-Machine Communication Research,” in May 2015, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a beautiful afternoon in the Caribbean, but the workshop was full, with several dozen people in attendance. Many of the attendees had similar experiences as Steve, David, and myself: they had been working in areas related to HMC and were looking to connect with a larger body of scholars with similar interests.

The shared sentiment at the workshop was to move forward with a more formal event, specifically a pre or post-conference at ICA the following year. Now in my first year as an assistant professor at NIU, I initiated the planning along with David and Steve, and we agreed to reach out to several workshop participants who expressed interest in assisting with the preconference, specifically Autumn P. Edwards and Chad Edwards from Western Michigan University. Autumn and Chad had founded the Communication and Social Robotics Labs along with Patric R. Spence, who was then at the University of Kentucky. These combined efforts were behind the post-conference in Japan.

Efforts to formalize HMC have continued to move forward as more scholars have become interested and involved in the study of people’s communication with technology. Anecdotally, one of the factors driving this interest in HMC is that technology now talks back—literally—and this talkative technology is making its way into almost every aspect of people’s lives. Technologies such as digital agents and social robots also are beginning to make way for HMC to be accepted as an area of study within communication. One of the reasons why this area of research is only now taking shape is that scholars initially faced resistance to the idea of machines as communicators. The proliferation of talking and moving technology, particularly devices and applications supported by AI, has meant that even scholars outside of HMC have experienced a communicative technology, helping them to better understand our arguments and the need for HMC research.

Given the success of the first ICA event, we convened a second ICA preconference, “Communicating with Machines: Interventions with Digital Agents,” in May 2017 in San Diego, California. Autumn P. Edwards and Chad Edwards served as lead organizers with Patric R. Spence, Steve Jones, David J. Gunkel, and myself once again as co-chairs. Austin Lee, who was then at Northern Kentucky University, and Jake Liang, of Chapman University also joined as co-chairs, as did Seth C. Lewis, of the University of Oregon. Our list of sponsors also grew: Department of Communication, NIU; College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University; Department of Communication, UIC; College of Communication & Information, School of Information Science, University of Kentucky; Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon; Communication ← xv | xvi → and Social Robotics Labs, School of Communication, Western Michigan University. With the help of Matthew Lombard and his resources at Temple University, I also have established an e-mail list to help better connect HMC scholars, and we also have convened informal meetings of HMC scholars at conferences beyond ICA, including the Association of Internet Researchers. As this book is going to print, we now are preparing for our third ICA preconference “Communicating with Machines: Theory and Practice” with Patric R. Spence at the helm, to be held in Prague in May 2018. The number of submissions has almost tripled from Fukuoka.

While our community has gained so much, I would like to take a moment to also acknowledge one of its losses: In 2017, Jake Liang who had worked with Austin Lee in studying people’s interactions with robots passed away. The chapter authored by Austin and Jake in this volume was written before Jake’s passing. We are all saddened at the loss of Jake, a wonderful person and an excellent scholar. The chapter written by Austin and Jake brings together so much of their work and provides the opportunity to share Jake’s passion with a new audience.

The purpose of recounting this history is to highlight how quickly interest in HMC has developed and to underscore the importance of cultivating a community of scholars that provides the space not only to present one’s work but also to engage in discussion regarding larger issues and questions. One of the goals we have set as organizers of HMC events and facilitators of this group has been to be encourage dialogue across the topical, epistemological, and methodological divides within the study of communication. This is not a group of qualitative or quantitative scholars. It is a community of qualitative and quantitative scholars, rhetoricians, philosophers (and the list goes on) who are seeking answers to some of the most pressing questions facing individuals, society, and the study of communication itself. (After all, if we have long defined communication as a human-only process, the shift toward theorizing it as a human-machine process challenges the very nature of communication and communication research).

My goal in developing this edited volume has been to provide a collection of scholarship that is representative of the work of individual HMC scholars presented at the first post-conference, but, at the same time, attempts to capture the breadth of HMC research and approaches to it. To that end, the scholarship included in this volume focuses on people’s communication with different technologies (e.g., AI, various types of robots, algorithms), proceeds from multiple epistemological and theoretical starting points (e.g., social-scientific, critical, cultural), and uses different methods (e.g., survey, experiment, rhetorical analysis, philosophical inquiry). At the same time, I ← xvi | xvii → realize that many audience members may be new to HMC and are reading this book to inform their own research, to incorporate its material into classes, or to satisfy a general curiosity in this area. I have charged myself and the chapter authors to be clear in how individual research relates to HMC overall as well as to pay attention to issues of theory and method.

The result is that this book can be read several ways. The first is that readers can focus on a particular technology, theory, or method that is most relevant to their own interests. Such a reading would focus on a single or a few chapters. The second way to read this book is in its entirety, or near entirety. It is this second approach that I suggest (and, no, I am not suggesting this approach because I am the editor). I advocate for a more holistic reading because it best recreates, as much as is feasible in print form, the nature of the HMC conference at which this research was presented. To read only a chapter or two that is most relevant to one’s research is efficient, no doubt, but keeps firmly in place those divisions that in many ways have hampered the study of HMC in the first place. Reading this book in its entirety will help individuals, particularly people who are new to this area, to (1) understand the individual work taking place, (2) identify areas of convergence and divergence within the scholarship, and (3) gain a greater appreciation of the overarching issues and questions underpinning this research as a whole.

The one aspect of the HMC community that I, unfortunately, cannot adequately capture within printed text is its professional congeniality and shared comradery. Yes, as scholars we do have our philosophical, theoretical, and methodological differences, and, yes, these differences matter. However, what we as organizers of this community and many of its participants share is an understanding that collectively we are working toward something much bigger than our individual research agendas. It is through our own research that we have realized that what we know of communication is fundamentally changing as machines enter into our communicative spaces. We are beginning to see the very early stages of how communicative technologies are transforming our understanding of not only what machines are but also who we are. For these reasons, we understand that the study of HMC is clearly bigger than any one of us or any single approach to research. The final purpose of this book, then, is to invite its readers to join us in tackling these questions surrounding people’s communication with machines and to bring new questions, new theories, and new approaches to this endeavor.

Andrea L. Guzman
DeKalb, Illinois
February 2018


XX, 274
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 274 pp., 8 b/w ill., 5 tables

Biographical notes

Andrea L. Guzman (Volume editor)

Andrea L. Guzman is an assistant professor of communication at Northern Illinois University where her research focuses on human-machine communication and artificial intelligence, the automation of journalism, and media representations of intelligent technologies.


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