The Future of Human-Robot Interaction : A socio-economic Scenario Analysis

University essay from KTH/Skolan för industriell teknik och management (ITM)

Author: Benedikt Krieger; [2020]

Keywords: ;

Abstract: Advancing research in an interdisciplinary field such as robotics is a complex undertaking. Seldom, it is moved beyond the scope of an individual science and the challenges from other fields of research are incorporated. Research on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) is attributed interdisciplinarity and, thus, is a case in point. Therefore, this thesis aims to integrate both engineering, psychosocial, and socio-economic research streams. By doing so, the goal is to reveal and to identify underlying questions which are tacitly assumed by either research field, but require explicit contemplation and elaboration. The engineering community is currently focusing on collaboration and cooperation (CoCo) as it enables humans and robots to operate together in heterogenous teams. Human-robot teamwork, in turn, is promising to enable the integration of both a human’s flexibility, dexterity, and creative problem solving with robotic strength, precision, reliability, and efficiency. In contrast, economic considerations evolve around elaborations on technological unemployment and further macroeconomic implications. To unite these streams, this thesis conducts a scoping literature review. Through it, the fundamental design considerations necessary to achieve CoCo are laid out, while pointing towards the currently most promising research direction in each of the design aspects. Both engineering as well as psychosocial aspects are considered. Then, a scenario analysis with a socio-economic scope is conducted. This serves to widen the understanding of the embedding of HRI as a socio-technical system in socio-economic environments, i.e., companies. Finally, the design aspects trust, multimodal communication, and the human role in HRI are used to build an understanding of the relation between socio-economic developments and future scenarios with specific design aspects of HRI. It is found that all future scenarios have distinct but also partly similar implications for HRI. More profoundly though, a number of ethical and open philosophical questions arise from the scenario transfer to HRI. What happens if progress on CoCo is too slow to enable a paradigm shift away from automation through robotics? How much are we willing to subject ourselves to digital technology in order to enable natural interaction with robots? Are we sufficiently knowledgeable about prospective opportunities and risks as we move closer to being able to replicate a considerable number of uniquely human abilities? With these questions, this dissertation aims to contribute to the HRI community on wider considerations necessary for a human-centric future of HRI. Education is posited as a crucial stepping stone to enable such a future.

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