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Human-Machine Communication

Rethinking Communication, Technology, and Ourselves


Edited By Andrea L. Guzman

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.

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2. Aliveness and the Off-Switch in Human-Robot Relations (Eleanor Sandry)


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2. Aliveness and the Off-Switch in Human-Robot Relations


If robots are going to share human homes, workplaces and social spaces in the future, how will they communicate with people, and how might this frame people’s perceptions of them? Should a robot’s communication style reinforce the sense in which they seem to be somewhat alive, trustworthy assistants, co-workers or possibly even friends? Is there value in people recognizing and respecting the agency of robots, while also being reminded that even the most personable social robot is a machine that can be switched off? The questions in this list are too complex to answer fully in this short chapter. Its aim, instead, is to offer a starting point for discussing such questions: to demonstrate how a detailed analysis of people’s communication with and about robots from a number of communication theoretical perspectives is a productive way to think through the deployment of robots into everyday life.

Theorizing Communication Between Humans and Robots

As might be expected, communication with robots is often discussed in terms that draw upon cybernetic theory. The cybernetic tradition of communication theory considers communication in terms of information processing and exchange. It is an archetypal transmission model, which places particular value on precision in the coding of messages (Craig, 1999). Alongside this, from the perspective of the semiotic tradition, communication occurs through intersubjective mediation that employs shared languages and other sign systems...

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