Attitudes and Portrayal of Robotic Advancements

Will 2021 Be the Year that We Start to Love Robots?

By Genevieve Robinson on Jan 15, 2021

Editor Note: Understanding the importance of this timely topic and to ensure that research is made available to the wider academic community, IGI Global has made a sample of related articles and chapters complimentary to access. View the end of this article to freely access this critical research.


There is no denying that 2020 was a difficult year, due to natural disasters, political divisions in the U.S., and a global health crisis, and many are seeking out something positive to look forward to in 2021.  With this in mind, a recent Popular Science article contains a YouTube video of human-like dancing robots engineered by robotics company Boston Dynamics. These robots are described as “The world’s most dynamic humanoid robot… [with an] advanced control system and state-of-the-art hardware [that] give the robot the power and balance to demonstrate human-level agility.” While many are questioning why industry leaders would put in the effort to make their advanced machines dance, some experts in the industry think that making robots more comical makes this highly developed technology less intimidating to the general public.

View the Boston Dynamics video below:

While all of this is much-needed comic relief after a year of distress, the video demonstrates the advancements that have been made over the last 11 years in the study of movement in robotics and their many possible applications. With how far the technology has progressed, these machines could help solve a lot of problems in modern society. They can achieve complex tasks in a threatening environment, removing the need to put people in dangerous situations.

However, skepticism can stand in the way of this progress. The comment section under the video on YouTube ranged from disbelief to appreciation to joking about a cyborg takeover. Convincing the general public to embrace these advancements has proven to be more of a challenge in some parts of the world compared to others. In western culture, media portrayal plays a role in influencing fears regarding job security in an increasingly automated world, as well as public safety as we rely more on artificial intelligence to make decisions. More research is needed in the area of societal interaction with robotics technology to better understand public perception and its implications on this growing industry.

To provide robotic developers, business and IT professionals, and academicians innovative insights into the state-of-the-art technologies in the design and development of robotics and their real-world applications in business processes, Prof. Roger Andre Søraa, from NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway, explains how media influences societal perceptions of robotics in his chapter, “Mecha-Media: How Are Androids, Cyborgs, and Robots Presented and Received Through the Media?” sourced from Research Anthology on Rapid Automation: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (IGI Global).

Research Anthology on Rapid Automation: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications
Copyright: 2019 | Pages: 1,566 | ISBN: 9781522580607 | EISBN: 9781522580614

This publication is a collection of innovative insights into the state-of-the-art technologies in the design and development of robotics and their real-world applications in business processes...Learn More.

The term “robot” has been around for quite some time, with deep roots in fictional works. Since entities such as androids and cyborgs have entered the discourse, there is a need to analyze how these “non-human human-lookalikes” are portrayed. This chapter does so by a media-analysis which gives expression on how robots are portrayed, and how they are received. The portrayal of robots will be analyzed by media-analysis strategies, tackling the who, what, where, and how, of concrete news-articles on robots. The analysis on how robots are received will utilize research techniques that analyse some new social media applications and comment fields found on the Internet. By analyzing public opinions seen in comment fields - tweets regarding shows where robots are found; e.g., on Facebook groups and forums discussing robots - the author will qualitatively explore ways the general public receives robots.

In addition to the two focus areas of portrayal and reception, a thorough background will be given for each empirical sample on search terms, frequency, statistics, and background information on the given media. The media analysis will cover news articles from 2015, focusing primarily on articles written in English, originating from Europe and the US, but also with focus on robots in Japan. All three of these regions are robot hotspots in terms of production and/or consumption, with Japan being the primary producer of robots, and until recently the top consumer. In 2016, China surpassed Japan in the number of robot units bought per year. The US and EU represent the two largest economies in the world affecting the money flowing into robotic research. However, they are, along with Japan, troubled by an increasingly aging population. Robots are seen as one possible solution to combat this problem.

Different robots are presented in different ways, and the presentation varies, not only between robots, but also between countries. Simply put, robots are presented very differently by the media in the US, Europe, and Japan. This is perhaps tied to “homegrown” robots; i.e., Japanese robots might be better presented and received in Japan than American ones, and vice-versa.

While many articles written about robots are quite positive, focusing on how new robotic technology can benefit mankind, there are also critical voices. The interesting thing in the portrayal of robots is not only the actual context the robot is reported to perform in, but also the multiple critical stories in the media regarding what robots can be capable of with present new technology. This matter is heavily tied to cultural contexts, and with an analysis of the media presentation and reception of robots, can be further investigated.

The research for this chapter is methodologically founded in Grounded Theory, which is an inductive theory-building method (Charmaz & Smith, 2003; Glaser & Strauss, 2009; Strauss & Corbin, 1994). Grounded Theory starts with data, and follows it, seeing whom it touches and how, and it then builds the theory on the basis of the empirical data collection. The strength of the Grounded Theory method is that it enables us to not “blind ourselves” with theory before searching for the data. In a media context, this can be especially fruitful, as the author is primarily concerned with the way the data is presented and received, and not how it can fit into existing theoretical frameworks.

The reason these particular stories have been chosen for this chapter is because they represent different framings of the controversy of robots in the media. They are also examples of the three types of robotic beings that this book describes: robots, androids, and cyborgs. It shows that, especially for humanoid robots (androids) and robotic humans (cyborgs), certain “doomsday” prophecy scenarios are occurring more and more often. The data material case studies people who comment on news articles online. The chapter aims to give qualitative insight into commenters that make commentary on robot cases; but, is too narrow to give qualitative general numbers on reception rates of robots, not necessarily seeing how robots are received by everyone, but how they can be received by particular groups of people who comment on news stories about robots, thereby shining light on the phenomenon. The news stories are not neutral; journalists write them in specific cultural settings with their various interests, biases, and goals.

Theoretical Background

The different theoretical concepts used for analyzing what may be called ‘Mecha-Media’ in this chapter are culled from Studies of Science and Technology (STS). STS studies how and why societal and cultural factors impact science and technology and, conversely, how and why science and technology affect society and culture. The theories used in this chapter are interlinked as follows: The chapter studies how robotics as a controversy is framed in contemporary media, following the narrative of these actors, seeing how they are domesticated by the receptors of the select media articles. In studies of science and technology, Controversy Studies is often applied to see the process of scientific change (Pinch & Bijker, 1984; Engelhardt & Caplan, 1987; Martin & Richards, 1995). This text uses the term in a broader conceptual framing, adopting it to a wider understanding of the techno-artifact topic under discussion; namely, seeing how technology in society (and also implied to some degree, how “science incorporated”) is ‘understood’ by contemporary society. Inspiration for this more techno-controversial focus can be found in the work of Herman Tavani.

Tavani’s book, Ethics and Technology, questions how the “cyber landscape” is ethically controversial (2003). Whilst it does so primarily in a cyberspace context, it also gives some useful insight in how to understand techno-controversies. Science and technology as concepts are deeply interwoven, perhaps especially in the case of robots; i.e., since they are, to an extent, science incorporated in technology, then “released/given” to society.

These controversies in the media contest how robots are framed in the media-landscape. In the social sciences, framing is a set of theoretical perspectives used to analyze how a concept - here, robots - is selectively communicated within a community or society in order to see how the concept is specifically socially constructed there. The three geographical areas chosen for this chapter of the US, Europe, and Japan are all highly technologically-advanced nations, with the US and Japan being world leaders in robotics with state-of-the-art development and research. A specific focus is on Norway, also, partly due to high levels of welfare for its citizens alongside its high usage and acceptance rates of new technologies. Also, as discussed herein, some media themes deemed ‘dangerous’ may be ‘stretched’ in framing, as in the case of the “killer robot.”

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Understanding the need for research around this topic, this research is featured in the publication Research Anthology on Rapid Automation: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (IGI Global). In a world that is increasingly dependent upon robotic and technological advancements in everyday life, this compilation features 70+ hand-selected, highly cited comprehensive chapters on trending topics in robotics and automation, including human-computer interaction, robot avatars, and robots in medicine. This title provides innovative insights into the state-of-the-art technologies in the design and development of robotics and their real-world applications in business processes and is ideally designed for computer engineers, business managers, robotic developers, business and IT professionals, academicians, and researchers.

This Research Anthology is currently available in print and electronic format (ISBN: 9781522580607, EISBN: 9781522580614) through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore at a 20% discount. Additionally, to ensure that the research community can easily and affordably access this content, IGI Global is reducing the price of our 3-4-volume Research Anthologies, including this title, up to 50%. These publications are ideal for accommodating library budgets, as they contain a compilation of comprehensive, hand-selected research content of the highest quality. Additionally, all IGI Global titles are available on the individual article and chapter level (pay-per-view) for US$ 37.50 through IGI Global's InfoSci-Ondemand. Recommend this publication and view all of the chapters featured in this title on the book webpage here.

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