Un réel pour le XXI sciècle
IX Congresso dell'AMP • 14-18 aprile 2014 • Paris • Palais des Congrès • www.wapol.org

Tom Harding

"Using robots as machines that can mediate between people is a challenging task, a task where ultimately, when successful, the robot would 'disappear ', and would no longer be needed."[1]

Meet KASPAR. Designed by members of the AuRoRa Project at the University of Hertfordshire, KASPAR – which stands for Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics – is a robot intended for use in therapy with autistic children. His function is principally educative: KASPAR smiles, frowns, and moves around, responding appropriately to a child's interaction with him. It is hoped that the child will learn from KASPAR how to interpret and behave in social exchanges.

On the horizon, we have the stated desire for KASPAR's 'disappearance'. Once his behavioural algorithms have been properly assimilated, child and robot would be functionally indistinguishable. Yet the impossibility of realising this dystopian vision drives us to consider what remains unwritten when the code has colonised affective life. Robotherapy offers a universal solution – one algorithm for all – and so cannot take account of the real at play for each child.

To quote Éric Laurent, 'Play implies an indissoluble knot between the gain of knowledge and satisfaction, or even the beyond of satisfaction'. It is not, then, a question of learning or unlearning, but of facilitating a singular knotting irreducible to any universal algorithm.

Tom Harding
Centre for Critical Theory, University of Nottingham.

  1. Dautenhahn, K., 2003. "Roles and functions of robots in human society: implications from research in autism therapy", in Robotica, 21. pp. 443-452.