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Imagining Posthuman Care

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: AH/T004762/1
Funded under: AHRC Funder Contribution: 201,878 GBP

Imagining Posthuman Care

Description

According to the Office for National Statistics, the U.K. has an ageing population. Statisticians predict that "more than a quarter of UK residents will be aged 65 years or over within the next 50 years." Demographers have devised the "dependency ratio" to quantify the difference between (potential) dependents aged 65 and older and working-age members of the population. Demographic predictions suggesting the ratio will rise significantly between 2014 and 2039 alert us to the potential for a care deficit, a significant gap between demand and availability of dependency workers. Caregiving robots, are poised to fill this gap and there is significant public apprehension about the prospect of nonhumans, particularly robots, taking over traditionally human caregiving roles. Titles of recent U.K. newspaper articles -- "A robot carer? No thanks - we still need the human touch" (The Guardian), "Love them or leave them, robot carers are still inhuman" (The Times), and "'Care-bots' for the elderly are dangerous, warns artificial intelligence professor" (The Telegraph) -- provide evidence of this apprehension. Nonhuman caregivers challenge existing models of care that view companionship as distinctly, or even exclusively human. The impending proliferation of a wide variety of caregiving robots complicates the association between "humane" care and the human. This Fellowship examines how representations of human/robot relationships can help us imagine and interpret the ethical, political, and philosophical implications of nonhuman care. How humans regard, use, and relate to care robots is highly dependent on the look, feel and sound of these machines, and how these sensual elements invoke cultural traditions, concepts, and sentiments regarding technology, care, and the nonhuman. Similarly, preexisting cultural and social ideas and feelings can play a significant role in the creation of care robots. This Fellowship considers imaginary robot companions depicted in literature, film and television in order to understand how such representations of nonhuman care reflect, and are reflected by the definitions, ethics, politics, and economics of care. The project stems from a belief that exploring the nuances of robot representation can assist in the development of a posthuman vision of care, that is, an ethic of care that accounts for the complexity of how humans and machines relate.

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