The Future Is Unwritten... Time, Agency and Technological Development in Future Visions of Robots

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Klara-Aylin WENTEN, Technical University Munich, Germany
In a time, characterized by inequality and growing uncertainties about the future of socio-technological development, robots have become an indispensable matter of public concern. Central to their role is the question of mass unemployment and a new economic collapse, which results from automated labour. Scholars draw an explicit image of the future, where robots 'steal humans their jobs' and transform the role of human work.

In addition to pessimist visions, optimists depict robots as tools for citizen empowerment. Instead of creating greater inequality, such technology could equally contribute to autonomy in data control when being applied in, for instance, agriculture. Smaller groups are expected to overcome their dependence on authorities if robots become individually owned and utilised as productive forces.

It is striking that these visions engage with robots' up- and downsides of their social impact, while questions about their preconditions are left beyond dispute. Regarding the prevalence of robots in current debates, it is nonetheless important to engage with underlying assumptions of these visions. Therefore, this paper seeks to illuminate the reasons for their peculiarly different perspectives. Why are there contrasting visions of the future role of robots? And what are their implications for socio-technological change and the future role of work?

By drawing on Science & Technology Studies, these outlooks will be assessed according to accounts of agency and temporality. It will be demonstrated that they share restricted assumptions of agency and are underpinned by linear temporality. It will be argued that these presuppositions impact on the ways scholars conceive of the future of socio-technological development, influencing how the future of robots and labour is imagined to happen. Consequently, it is not only the role of robots that needs to be further discussed, but moreover the ways we deal with the future in general that require careful consideration.