The goal of introducing robots into everyday use has led to their reconceptualization as social technologies, for which interacting with people is a fundamental and necessary function. Robot sociality in this context is generally defined as a set of individual properties of the artifact, such as a human-like appearance or the ability to read social cues. In this paper, we propose an alternative view of robot sociality as an emergent relational property of the interactions between the robot and its social context, actively constructed by designers, users, and other actors affected by robots. We illustrate this perspective through the example of the robot PARO, a commercial social robot commonly used in eldercare, which we analyzed in a series of observational studies of the social processes of its design in the laboratory and its use in an eldercare facility. Our analysis shows how the robot as a social technology is constructed through the actions and sense making of various actors and the situated dynamics of interaction in particular institutional contexts. We first describe the social factors and rationale that influenced PARO’s design in the laboratory, and then discuss how the robot is scaffolded by users in a nursing home in the midwestern United States. Our studies go beyond the typical focus on one-on-one interaction between people and robots as the unit of analysis of human–robot interaction, to incorporate the broader social context as a necessary component of the successful design and implementation of social robots in society.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes