About @notmyrobots

Who is behind @notmyrobots?

@notmyrobots is run by four German (current and former) scientists who look at robotics and AI and their societal impact from a social science and cultural history perspective.

  • Arne Maibaum (@LordElend)
    Expertise: Sociology of technology
    Affiliation: Technical University of Berlin
  • Lisa Meinecke (@MeineckeLisa)
    Expertise: Cultural history
    Affiliation: Ludwig-Maximilians Universität (LMU), Munich
  • Dr. Laura Voss (@urbandebris)
    Expertise: Science and technology studies (STS), neuro-cognitive psychology, science management
    Science manager at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität (LMU), Munich
  • Philipp Graf (@ala_pax)
    Expertise: Sociology of Technology
    Affiliation: Technical University of Berlin

Why are you doing this?

Visualizations are a central element of media communication. Pictures accompanying a text guide our attention and, both explicitly and implicitly, influence how we perceive the content of the text. Therefore, pictures should be chosen carefully and responsibly.

Robotics, AI, and related technologies are often visualized in a way that is neither careful nor responsible. We observe that visualizations of these technologies frequently mix reality and (science) fiction, or the current state of technology with dystopian horror or utopian dreams. This only adds to the prevalent ignorance of what robotics, AI, and related technologies actually are (not) and can (not) do.

We want to create awareness that this practice is not only misleading but often problematic. We want to stress that robots, like any other technology, are human-made and are therefore not created towards technological necessity, but the product of complex social negotiation processes, in which visualizations play an influential role.

Examples for #notmyrobots visualizations

An article on algorithms illustrated with a picture of a humanoid service robot
Why? It implies that algorithms have a physical presence and other human-like features, e.g. human-like intelligence, emotions, and consciousness. Through the reproduction of science-fiction aesthetics robots are framed as  “exotic” and “futuristic”, while diverting attention from the fact that algorithms are already ubiquitous, albeit in a less tangible, immaterial form.

An article on job losses due to increasing automation illustrated with a picture of the Terminator
Why? It implies that jobs are threatened by autonomous, evil humanoid robots –  diverting attention from the fact that humans are the ones to make the decision to replace human workers with robotic technology.

An article on virtual assistants or support chatbots illustrated with a picture of a sexy female android
Why? It reinforces gender stereotypes and reproduces a binary gender divide in a technology which in itself has no gender identity. Through the reproduction of stereotypes gender identities are linked to “traditionally” assigned skills and tasks. In this case physical female characteristics are linked to the skill/task of assisting someone.

An article on machine learning illustrated with a white, male humanoid robot in the “thinker” pose
Why? It implies that machine intelligence is comparable to human intelligence and, additionally, reinforces racial and gender stereotypes.

We often find several of these problematic aspects combined in one visualization.

Where can I learn more?

Here is a collection of relevant literature.