Robots and New Media: A Contested Concept

15 Apr, 2014

Robots and New Media: A Contested Concept

A packed house greeted the first panelists for the Berkeley Center for New Media’s Robots and New Media Symposium on April 4, 2014. The day began with a conversation on Robotics Cognition and Neuroscience, featuring Shanti Ganesh, Ayse Saygin, Mireille Hildebrandt, and Emily Cross. The panel investigated the neuroscience of perceiving machines, referencing FMRI scans that show the specific regions of our brains that respond with increased activity when we look at robots as opposed to humans moving. While unclear whether the brain activity evidences pleasure and or pain, it is clear that we are neurologically fascinated by robots.

The tenor of the symposium then shifted, as the keynote speaker Hubert Dreyfus tackled robots from a philosophical point of view. Dreyfus reflected on the history of artificial intelligence and reminded the audience that a first step in the wrong direction is not a success. He implored the audience to consider how we frame the problem of body, mind, and the world before we start programming.

The afternoon afternoon panel Robot Ethics and Opportunities explored robots from a legal standpoint. Greg Niemeyer, R. Stuart Geiger, Eric Stackpole and Deirdre Mulligan considered whether such technology is empowering or controlling, and our responsibility in navigating these concerns and the constitutional rights of users.

The conference ended with a much anticipated conversation on Robots as Metaphor with Eric Paulos, Carla Diana, Mark Pauline, and Ken Goldberg. The panel yielded images of hesitation and of hope, and mined the critical question of what we want the future to look like, and for whom.

The Robots and New Media symposium was hosted by the Berkeley Center for New Media, and was co-sponsored by the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, CITRIS, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Check out the photos below of the great day! Then read more about the amazing speakers who attended, and watch the day long event on youtube!

Philosophical, cognitive, and neuroscience questions and dilemmas of emerging robotic platforms


Shanti Ganesh is a former PhD student at the Behavioral Science Institute and is currently a visiting scholar postdoc with the University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, where she investigates the nature of creativity. Her PhD research dealt with a neuroscientific investigation of how long-term gamers of massively multiplayer online role-playing games self-identify with their avatar, an online artificial agent that represents the gamer in the online world. Shanti Ganesh has increasingly become interested in the hybridization of the boundaries between the human self and artificial agents, whether these are avatars or robots. Graduate degrees: MA Public Administration from Erasmus Univer- sity Rotterdam (1994), MSc Cognitive Psychology (2007) and PhD Cognitive Neuroscience (2013) from Radboud University Nijmegen.

Emily Cross is the director of the Social Brain in Action Laboratory, based jointly in Wales and the Netherlands. Since completing her PhD in 2008 at Dartmouth College, her primary research questions address how experience shapes perception, the social relevance of observed others (i.e., human vs. non-human agents), and the neural foundations of action expertise. To investigate these questions, and she uses neuroimaging, neurostimulation and behavioural training approaches, often in concert with complex training paradigms involving dance, gymnastics or contortion. Her work is currently funded by the Dutch Science Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Volkswagen Foundation, the UK Ministry of Defense, and the European Commission.

Mireille Hildebrandt is a lawyer and a philosopher who investigates the implications of smart technologies for democracy and the Rule of Law. She is a full professor at institute of Computing and Information Sciences (iCIS) at Radboud University Nijmegen, an associate professor at the department of Jurisprudence of the Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam and a senior researcher at the Law, Science, Technology and Society research group at Vrije Universiteit Brussels. She recently co-edited and co-authored Human Law and Computer Law (Springer 2013) and Privacy, Due Process and the Computational Turn (Routledge 2013). She is - amongst others - a founding member of the Digital Enlightenment Forum and editor-in-chief of the Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy. For further information see her website at Berkeley Press.

Ayse P. Saygin is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego. She received a PhD in Cognitive Science from UC San Diego, followed by a European Commission Marie Curie fellowship at the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and Wellcome Trust Centre for Functional Neuroimaging at University College London. She holds an MSc. in Computer Science and BSc. in Mathematics. Dr. Saygin directs the Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology Lab, which is affiliated with the Department of Cognitive Science, Neurosciences Graduate Program, Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Center for Research in Language, and Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind. Dr. Saygin, her students, and her collaborators explore human perception and cognition using a range of experimental and computational methods, including an interdisciplinary line of research on human perception of humanoid robots.


Hubert Dreyfus’ research and teaching interests bridge the analytic and Continental traditions in 20th century philosophy, focusing on Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as possible responses to the nihilism of the present age. His teaching has included an interdisciplinary Discovery Course on the understanding of being manifest in various kinds of technology.

Can robots serve as empowering surveillance and control systems for activists, amateurs, and grassroots communities as well as for governments and corporations? Where do legal, ethical, and human rights concerns arise?


Greg Niemeyer studied Classics and Photography in Switzerland and started working with new media when he arrived in the Bay Area in 1992. He received his MFA from Stanford University in New Genres (what it was called at the time) in 1997. At the same time, he founded the Stanford University Digital Art Center (SUDAC), which he directed until 2001, when he was appointed as a professor for New Media at UC Berkeley's Department of Art Practice. At UC Berkeley, he is involved in the Berkeley Center for New Media and CITRIS, focusing on the critical analysis of the impact of new media on human experiences.

Deirdre K. Mulligan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley and a co-Director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. Prior to joining the School of Information in 2008, she was a Clinical Professor of Law, founding Director of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, and Director of Clinical Programs at the UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall). Mulligan is the Policy lead for the NSF-funded TRUST Science and Technology Center, which brings together researchers at U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon University, Cornell University, Stanford University, and Vanderbilt University. Mulligan’s current research agenda focuses on information privacy and security. Current projects include comparative, qualitative research to explore the conceptualization and management of privacy within corporations based in different jurisdictions, and policy approaches to improving cybersecurity. MIT Press will publish her groundbreaking study of corporate privacy practices in the U.S. and Europe, conducted with UC Berkeley Law Prof. Kenneth Bamberger, in 2014. Other areas of current research include exploring users' conceptions of privacy in the online environment and their relation to existing theories of privacy. She is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for Democracy and Technology, and a Fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She is co-chair of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Academic Advisory Board, which comprises technology and policy experts who meet periodically to advise Microsoft about products and strategy. Prior to Berkeley, she served as staff counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C.

Eric Stackpole is co-founder of OpenROV, Inc., and creator of the OpenROV submarine, an open source, low cost "Remotely Operated Vehicle" (or ROV) underwater robot that can be piloted from the surface and stream live video to its operator. The intention of OpenROV is to democratize underwater exploration by making tools capable of exploring the deep available to anyone. After a very successful initial release of OpenROV kits through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, OpenROV has grown into a business that distributes kits for the OpenROV submarine to researchers, educators, technology enthusiasts, and explorers across the globe. Stackpole has worked on numerous other projects that utilize telerobotics as a means for exploration, including piloting ROV submarines under the Ross Sea in Antarctica and developing low-cost spacecraft used to carry out scientific missions in low earth orbit.

R. Stuart Geiger is a doctoral student in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. A computational ethnographer, he studies knowledge production in distributed and decentralized organizations. Stuart’s research currently focuses on the social and organizational roles of software agents in the operation and maintenance of Wikipedia and scientific research networks.

New robotic interfaces, kinematics, algorithms, and artistic forms


Eric Paulos is the Director of the Hybrid Ecologies Lab, Co-Director of the CITRIS Invention Lab, and an Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering Computer Science Department at UC Berkeley where he is faculty within the Berkeley Center for New Media (BCNM). Previously, Eric held the Cooper-Siegel Associate Professor Chair in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University where he was faculty within the Human-Computer Interaction Institute with courtesy faculty appointments in the Robotics Institute and in the Entertainment Technology Center. Prior to CMU, Eric was Senior Research Scientist at Intel Research in Berkeley, California where he founded the Urban Atmospheres research group. His areas of expertise span a deep body of research territory in urban computing, sustainability, green design, environmental awareness, social telepresence, robotics, physical computing, interaction design, persuasive technologies, and intimate media. Eric received his PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from UC Berkeley.

Carla Diana is a designer, author and educator who enjoys living as close to the near future as possible. In her studio she works on future-specting projects mixing robotics and sensor technologies with everyday life to create smart objects that can charm and surprise. She is a Fellow at the innovation design firm Smart Design where she oversees the Smart Interaction Lab. Carla has taught and lectured internationally, including a year as visiting faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she was the creative director for the iconic humanoid robot, Simon. Her recent article, “Talking, Walking Objects”, appeared on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Review this January, and is a good representation of her view of our robotic future. She has just completed a children's book for Maker Media about the future of 3D printing and design.

Survival Research Laboratories was conceived of and founded by Mark Pauline in November 1978. Since then, SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians dedicated to re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product, and warfare. Since 1979, SRL has staged over 45 mechanized presentations. Each performance consists of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special effects devices, employed in developing themes of socio-political satire. Humans are present only as audience or operators.

Ken Goldberg is craigslist Distinguished Professor of New Media at UC Berkeley, where he and his students investigate robotics, art, and social media. Goldberg directs the Automation Sciences Research lab and is Faculty Director of the CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative. Goldberg earned dual degrees in Electrical Engineering and Economics from the University of Pennsylvania (1984) and MS and PhD degrees from Carnegie Mellon University (1990). He joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1995 where he is Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR), with secondary appointments in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science (EECS), Art Practice, the School of Information, and in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the UCSF Medical School.

Opening Remarks

Intro Panel One

Emily Cross

Mireille Hildebrandt

Ayse Saygin

Panel One

Hubert Dreyfus

Intro Panel Two

Eric Stackpole

Stuart Geiger

Deirdre Mulligan

Panel Two

Intro Panel Three

Carla Diana

Mark Pauline

Ken Goldberg

Panel Three