How Robots’ Unintentional Metacommunication Affects Human–Robot Interactions. A Systemic Approach

Minds and Machines 31 (4):487-504 (2021)
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In this paper, we theoretically address the relevance of unintentional and inconsistent interactional elements in human–robot interactions. We argue that elements failing, or poorly succeeding, to reproduce a humanlike interaction create significant consequences in human–robot relational patterns and may affect human–human relations. When considering social interactions as systems, the absence of a precise interactional element produces a general reshaping of the interactional pattern, eventually generating new types of interactional settings. As an instance of this dynamic, we study the absence of metacommunicative abilities in social artifacts. Then, we analyze the pragmatic consequences of the aforementioned absence through the lens of Paul Watzlawick’s interactionist theory. We suggest that a fixed complementary interactional setting may be produced because of the asymmetric understanding, between robots and humans, of metacommunication. We highlight the psychological implications of this interactional asymmetry within Jessica Benjamin’s concept of “mutual recognition”. Finally, we point out the possible shift of dysfunctional interactional patterns from human–robot interactions to human–human ones.

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Piercosma Bisconti
Scuola Superiore di Studi Universitari e di Perfezionamento Sant'Anna


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