Love bytes and intimate machines: Analysing news media representations of human- robot interactions

Lecture | September 14 | 12:30-2 p.m. | Moffitt Undergraduate Library, BCNM Commons, 340

 Belinda Middleweek

 Center for New Media

Research on human-robot interactions (HRI) has surged in recent years with a number of studies debating the social, ethical, psychological and philosophical implications of intimate robotic companions in the form of sex robots. Despite increasing scholarly interest in these relationships, how news media represent HRI is little analysed (Correa et.al. 2016). Applying the concept of the ‘technological imaginary’ (Cranny-Francis 2013) to a qualitative content analysis of news articles published between 2007 and 2018, this study identifies the images, metaphors and narratives used in news media coverage of sex robots. The results indicate a growing concern about the future of human intimacy and key perspectives from sex robot enthusiasts were absent or marginalized in the news content sampled. Given the mounting evidence that metaphors used to describe robots impact the regulation of robotic technology (Darling 2015; Richards and Smart 2016), there is a greater need to understand how science journalism reports on issues of technology and intimacy and its potential to shape social attitudes and ethico-legal frameworks.

Dr. Belinda Middleweek is a senior lecturer in the School of Communication at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. She has worked as a segment producer for Australia’s top rating breakfast television programs Sunrise and The Morning Show and for the nightly current affairs program Today Tonight (Seven Network). She has also worked as an associate producer, field producer and researcher on a range of local and internationally broadcast documentaries for production houses Beyond International, Shadow Productions, Graham McNeice Productions and iKandy Films. Her PhD explored media representations of “deviant women” and her research on gender, media and digital cultures has been published in the international journals Feminist Media Studies, Sexualities and Crime, Media, Culture. Her book Real Sex Films: The New Intimacy and Risk in Cinema (2017 with John Tulloch), explored intimacy, desire, risk and transgression in films of the extreme cinema movement. She is currently researching mediations and technologies of intimacy with a particular focus on news media representations of human-robot intimacy.

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