Benjamin Lipp

Interfacing RobotCare – On the Techno-Politics of Innovation

Doctoral dissertation project at the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), Technical University of Munich, 2013-2019

Committee: Prof. Sabine Maasen (supervisor), Prof. Sebastian Pfotenhauer (chair), Prof. Jeannette Pols, Prof. Robin Williams

In this project, I investigate the emergence of RobotCare within the context of European innovation politics. Here, the vision and project of social robots caring for the elderly is positioned as a necessary and desirable solution to impending demographic change. In front of this background, I do not take the interconnection of robotics and care as a given but rather as the product of a wide range of political, technological, and social processes, which have made this project possible in the first place. This presents empirical and analytical challenges, which I propose to tackle by way of an analytics of interfacing. Such an analytics investigates the practices and milieus of interfacing, which have gradually rendered robotics and care interconnectable. It builds on and seeks to extend existing scholarship in (feminist) science and technology studies, media studies and the philosophy of technology.

At its heart, I offer three connected case studies, where I focus on different modes of interfacing RobotCare: infrastructuring, prototyping, and translating. The first case study focuses on how RobotCare has emerged within European innovation policy discourse through particular rationalities of interconnectability. The plausibility and desirability of RobotCare is the product of a number of infrastructural reconfigurations of European policy in the past two decades. The second case study investigates a robotics R&D project, which aims to realise prototypical interconnections between robots, elderly people and care-like environments. Roboticists must continuously tinker with and stage those interconnections in order to stabilise them temporarily. Finally, the third case study enquires into an EU-funded project of public procurement, where public end-users are included in the task of rendering robotics a valid solution and marketable product for geriatric care. In order to do so, the involved actors, e.g. roboticists, users, and robots themselves, need to be continuously interested in this endeavour and, consequently, translated in different ways.

By way of this extensive analysis I show that both robotics and care had and still have to be profoundly reconfigured and rendered available for one another in order to become fitting components of the vision and project of RobotCare. Furthermore, I argue that these efforts to interface RobotCare betoken a more general regime of contemporary politics. They manifest a techno-politics of innovation, which presumes an almost universal interconnectability of technology and society. As a consequence of this diagnosis, I propose the enquiry of rationalities of interconnectability and processes of interfacing as a crucial vehicle for questioning and contesting the interconnection of robotics and care in particular, as well as ageing and innovation more generally.

You can download the full dissertation here.