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DANCING AROUND THE SUBJECT WITH ROBOTS: ETHICAL COMMUNICATION AS A “TRIPLE AUDIOVISUAL REALITY”

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Abstract:

Communication is often thought of as a bridge between self and other, supported by what they have in common, and pursued with the aim of further developing this commonality. However, theorists such as John Durham Peters and Amit Pinchevski argue that this conception, connected as it is with the need to resolve and remove difference, is inherently ‘violent’ to the other and therefore unethical. To encourage ethical communication, they suggest that theory should instead support acts of communication for which the differences between self and other are not only retained, but also valued for the possibilities they offer. As a means of moving towards a more ethical stance, this paper stresses the importance of understanding communication as more than the transmission of information in spoken and written language. In particular, it draws on Fernando Poyatos’ research into simultaneous translation, which suggests that communication is a “triple audiovisual reality” consisting of language, paralanguage and kinesics. This perspective is then extended by considering the way in which Alan Fogel’s dynamic systems model also stresses the place of nonverbal signs. The paper explores and illustrates these theories by considering human-robot interactions because analysis of such interactions, with both humanoid and non-humanoid robots, helps to draw out the importance of paralanguage and kinesics as elements of communication. The human-robot encounters discussed here also highlight the way in which these theories position both reason and emotion as valuable in communication. The resulting argument – that communication occurs as a dynamic process, relying on a triple audiovisual reality drawn from both reason and emotion – supports a theoretical position that values difference, rather than promoting commonality as a requirement for successful communicative events. In conclusion, this paper extends this theory and suggests that it can form a basis for ethical communication between all kinds of selves and others, not just between humans and robots.

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