Addressing the Unseen Power

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Abstract

Erickson applies an ethnographic technique she has developed to undertake two case studies of common devices that promise to replace some aspects of human interaction. Peering into self-checkout machines and Paro, a robot seal deployed in elder homes, Erickson raises questions about disenchantment and deskilling and demonstrates how human automation is achieved in drip-by-drip ways, with more human-machine interaction seeping into everyday life. Using the examples of self-service and unidirectional carebots, she examines what these increasingly automate interactions reflect about human generosity and frustration, anthropomorphism, and the underlying corporate drive to replace human interaction with machine mechanization. As the capacity of both robots and artificial intelligence improves and congeals in artificially intelligent retail venues and creatures, what does a close study of two already-here devices reveal about human desires, failures, and longings?