In this chapter, we give an overview of the results of a Human-Robot Interaction experiment, in a near zerocontext environment. We stimulate the formation of a network joining together human agents and non-human agents, in order to examine emergent conditions and social actions. Human subjects, in teams of three to four, are presented with a task–to coax a robot (by any means) from one side of a table to the other–not knowing with what sensory and motor abilities the robotic structure is equipped. On the one hand, the “goal” of the exercise is to “move” the robot through any linguistic or paralinguistic means. But, from the perspective of the investigators, the goal is both broader and more nebulous–to stimulate any emergent interactions whatsoever between agents, human or non-human. Here we discuss emergent social phenomena in this assemblage of human and machine, in particular, turn-taking and discourse, suggesting (counter-intuitively) that the “transparency” of non-human agents may not be the most effective way to generate multi-agent sociality.
In the following chapter, we report on a series of ongoing experiments involving human agent-non-human agent interaction. In these, we consider the human-robot as our proper object, and the actions of all involved agents as formative of a temporary, shifting, cognitive, social and cultural network. These interactions, we argue, can be considered properly social and, in the Durkheimian sense, emergent, that is, not explicable at the level of the individual agent (Sawyer, 1991). In this, we draw upon synergistic insights from a variety of academic disciplines–AI, cybernetics, cognitive science, science studies, cultural studies and anthropology, each examining the cyborg from a slightly different perspective. All of them, though, might be said to engage cybernetics, and in particular the “second generation” cybernetics of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (1980). Looking to “autopoietic” systems (literally, systems that make themselves), Maturana and Varela undermined dichotomies of subject and object by focusing on the way that organisms “structurally couple” to their environments, that is, not so much adapting to them as producing them in the course of recursively producing themselves. It is the system itself that is generative of change, rather than some objective reality outside of it. By the 1990s, Varela (1999:48) had extended these insights into autopoeitic systems to more open systems, including human perception itself, describing, for example, vision as “emergent properties of concurrent subnetworks, which have a degree of independence and even anatomical separability, but cross-correlate and work together so that a visual percept is this coherency.”