Expression of interest is closed

We are pleased to announce that a call for papers of a special issue on “Beyond anthropomorphism: rethinking human-robot relations”is now open. The issue will be published in International Journal of Social Robotics.This initiative is being carried out after the discussion at the International Symposium: Beyond Anthropomorphism: Rethinking Human-Machine Relations in Robotics and A.I. which was held in June 2019 at the Sydney Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, University of Sydney.

Call for papers: Beyond anthropomorphism: rethinking human-robot relations. A special issue of the International Journal of Social Robotics

Guest editors: 

Chris Chesher:

Naoko Abe:

Raya Jones:

Theme: Artificial intelligence and robotics were founded on metaphors that equated the human and the technological — such as the thinker, the labourer, the carer and the companion. These anthropomorphic conceptions, bound up in the language, sociotechnical relations, narratives, and experiences of human-computer and human-robot interaction, have a certain power over how these technologies are conceived, designed and even used. While illustrative, powerful and often useful, these metaphors can also be misleading, as they can hide crucial differences between humans and machines. Yet the boundaries between humans and machines are fluid and never clearly given.As humans we depend on machines for who we are. We are the creators of machines and we often do so in our own image. We ascribe human agency to artificially ‘intelligent’ computer systems that remember, decide and act, apparently replicating the human. Conversely, we have come to accept machine-metaphors when thinking about ourselves and our cognition. The brain and mind are commonly talked about in computer terms, colloquially and by neuroscientists themselves – we are said to ‘process information’, have ‘inputs and outputs’, and ‘download’ things to our ‘hard disk’.Both of these alternatives — creating machines in the human image and conceiving of humans in machine-like terms — are problematic, limiting our thinking in design, ethics, research, policy and imagination. This special issue will interrogate the relationships between humans, AIs and robots by trying to critique and get beyond the dominant naturalising anthropomorphic metaphors and machine conceptions of human cognition, agency and action. We stress that AI and robots are different from other machines and communication technologies because they seem to have agency, rather than simply being tools that enhance human powers. Social roboticists aspire to create robots that operate naturally in social situations, with autonomy and social presence. These possibilities might be addressed through theories of non-human agency in the social sciences and humanities. For example, in Ihde’s terms, robots might establish alterity or background relations rather than the hermeneutic and embodiment relations of other technologies. Nass and Reeves argue that people relate to many of their devices in the same way that they treat other people. Actor-network theorists argue that many of the actors in sociotechnical networks are non-human. This special issue aims to 

  • Challenge organismic language (such as sensing, thinking, acting) by being specific about the capacities of robotic systems to engage with their material, symbolic and social environments.
  • Analyse the ‘cultural anatomy’ of the robot by examining the cultural history of robotic components (such as the relationships between the history of robotic sensors and the cultural history of human senses). 
  • Challenge mechanistic language (such as processing, storing information) in understanding human cognition, which in turn is the basis for the creation of artificial cognition, creating a self-referential loop.
  • Evaluate robot ethics that find equivalencies between robot and human agency.
  • Investigate the historical, institutional and sociopolitical contexts of development in robots and AI. 
  • Explore the phenomenology, politics and aesthetics of human-robot interactions beyond anthropomorphism, as well as its science.
  • Critically examine human-robot relations in practices that use metaphors of human-human relations such as conversation, assistance, instruction, sociality, dance and other forms of interaction.
  • Employ ethnographic methods in understanding human-robot relations
  • Reconsider human/machine relations in robotic design and engineering

Deadline for submission

Abstract / expression of interest deadline: November 15 2019 >>> NOW CLOSED

Send to

Full paper submission deadline: January 31 2020 >>> extented by March 31 2020

Recommended length

The expected length is 9-12 pages, for a total of 6-7000 words (if the submitted paper includes only text). The paper should not exceed 8000 words in length, including bibliographical references and notes. This special issue is part of a cross-Faculty collaboration at the University of Sydney between Naoko Abe at the Sydney institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems; Chris Chesher, Justine Humphry, Jolynna Sinanan and Fiona Andreallo in the Department of Media and Communications; and Kai Riemer and Mike Seymour at the Sydney Business School.


Australian Centre for Robotics