Guest Talk: Dismantling the White Patriarchal Origins of Robotics

Tom Williams from the Colorado School of Mines will be giving an interdisciplinary talk at the VU – details below. Would be great to engage with an audience in the humanities and the social sciences in addition to CS folks.

Talk Title: “Powerplay: Dismantling the White Patriarchal origins of robotics”

Time and place: Oct 16, 10am; room NU-4A67

Robots are often argued to occupy a unique ontological category in the human mind, somewhere between artefact and person, somewhere between engineering and science fiction. Yet few roboticists acknowledge the way that robots grew to occupy this niche. In this talk, I will begin by describing robots’ cultural origination in the White Patriarchal ambitions in the 19th-century United States. After laying this groundwork, I will then describe several ways that the design and deployment of modern robots continue to reinforce White Patriarchy across multiple domains of power, and the need for roboticists to adopt new tools of responsible design in order to better understand the implications of their design processes — and ensure that the robots of the future are instead wielded as a force for good.

Tom Williams is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the Colorado School of Mines, where he directs the Mines Interactive Robotics Research Lab. Prior to joining Mines, Tom earned a joint PhD in Computer Science and Cognitive Science from Tufts University in 2017. Tom’s research focuses on enabling and understanding natural language-based human-robot interaction that is sensitive to environmental, cognitive, social, and moral contexts. His work is funded by grants from NSF, ONR, and ARL, as well as by Early Career awards from NSF, NASA, and AFOSR. Tom is currently on sabbatical at the University of Bristol and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, where he is writing a book for MIT Press on the social and ethical implications of interactive robots.