I began by thinking about movements, ideas, projects that were of inspiration.
A prior project Liisa, considering how body adornments and hidden beauty can be augmented with digital technology.
Through a card sorting exercise of Interests and Inspirations I devised three topics to begin questioning:
Digitally Augmenting Communities
Are we Robots?
My professional work involves embedded systems and device innovation, coupled with a healthy interest in sci-fi - especially in the concept of cyborgs / augmented humans defines my final topic: Are we robots? Which I decided to focus on. The subject matter is very broad and I felt that giving the topic more definition would be beneficial to focusing on a solid research question. I started with my three initial questions in that topic around decision making, invisible interfaces and intimacy.
It is important to consider the role of intimacy within the context of human robot relationships. The topic of intimacy begins with the question around human intimacy between partners and whether robots or cyborg culture can help this. Looking at factors of intimacy include communication, sexuality, confidence, empathy etc and exploring the potential of robots through considering wearables, companions and prosthetics. Within this, I felt that it would be important to review the genre of sex robots and intimate relationships with robots.
Ken Goldberg asks how robots can inspire us to be better humans and I question are the role of robots here to inspire, facilitate or assist through integration.This topic overlaps with the question of invisible robotic interfaces. In my research I came across the term social robots, or David Rose's enchanted objects. His book on the topic which I am still reading describes new technology to be used to create objects of joy and magic. Some questions I have are can enchanted objects promote better intimacy with our partners through more whimsy and perhaps better understanding of ourselves. Would enchanted objects heighten our self- awareness.
The cognitive power of robots is driven by artificial intelligence. In whether they are helpful with decision making, I look at the nature of making hard decisions and how we use value within our judgements. AI’s use a series of proprietary algorithms that don’t express the values used to make these recommendations such as within music, movies, purchases and hiring. How can we trust that these algorithms are helping us make better decisions if we do not understand the bias’ programmed or not accounted for?
Although I focused my research topic pretty early on to the merging of humans and robots, the question was still very broad and the research led down many path. I thought it was useful to distill the research into a simple mindmap. What is referred to as robots is about body enhancements in the way of wearable devices and prosthetics. These body enhancements can be used to augment, signal and communicated. In a future connected world, what would these communications be? What will our relationships look like in this world where cyborgs exist - where we consist of not just ourselves, but the devices, enhancements and prosthetics that we rely on?
Much of our communication is unspoken, codified in our body language, facial expression and our digital selves. This is the area that my research is focusing on. Most of the time, what is unspoken are the more difficult and uncomfortable moments in our lives and the more private and intimate sensations that we experience such as pain and pleasure. The research is delving into this area, where I am speaking to pain experts as well as people who have had traumatic experiences such as surgery. There has also been many times throughout history where garments and accessories have been worn to express solidarity or as part of political coercion. I'm exploring this in my historical timeline.
The highlighted areas are where my prototypes have emerged - in the areas of cosmesis and networked communication using wearables.
Both robots and humans can be viewed as a composites of sensors, cognition, communication and motion elements. Combining parts of robot technology to humans gives us a set of hybrid human-robot possibilities which I've explored in my lit review as well as the design of robots themselves.
The lit review linked above covers three main areas that encompass my research question:
Sensing and Perception
Robots and Prosthetics
Communication and Intimacy
I created a survey to send out to a variety of people who have experience with relationships to understand other people's perception of intimacy. The questions are based off psychology writings on intimacy, the 36 questions to creating intimacy and anecdotal discussions around intimacy with others.
From survey results, I found a wearable electronic solution might be helpful in my project goal of creating new opportunities for intimacy.
I asked a series of questions to about 30 people in intimate relationships based around three categories - contextual questions about their relationship, relationship communication and lastly, vulnerability and physical intimacy. I was hoping to gain some insights into how different couples communicate and where might a particular need for the project lie. Some of the questions I asked were such as:
What digital mediums do you use to communicate with your partner?
What % would you say your communication is digital vs face to face?
What do you consider as physical Intimacy?
How do you communicate your sexual intimacy needs?
75% were comfortable expressing intimacy in public, which implied that they might be interested in a wearable that makes their presence and connection more visible to the world, such as in the form of a garment.
It was interesting to learn that 90% of the couples felt that they communicated enough, and they felt like they were in constant communication with each other. Only 35% of the couples were of the same ethnic background. In terms of how they defined intimacy, “Making Time for each other” and “Touching and giving each other physical affection” rated most highly. In terms of digital communication, 40% of the respondents said that at least 50% of communication was digital. There was an extremely broad range of digital media that couples used to communicate. Basic texting ranked highest, with other disseminated between Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger. A couple of unexpected answers were Dropbox and Calendar. This question is particularly interesting to me as I am considering integrating digital communication APIs into the project.
To the question that asked: Can you think about moments of distress in the relationship, what caused this? Just under half the people stated a lack of communication as a factor, other talked about mental issues and histories of abuse, which also implied an effect on effective communication there.
Another question was around how couples expressed appreciation for each other. Around 65% included some sort of verbal communication. Other questions around how people expressed sexual intimacy needs and desires, as well as how they expressed pain and hurt were also a majority verbal. Yet when asked a follow up question on whether they used indirect communication in these scenarios, 75% gave an answer. It made me think that some technology that could analyze verbal communication might be interesting to add to the project but that non-verbal communication was still a very important aspect to explore.
Within the context of communication of distress and pain in the relationship, I interviewed someone who has had rheumatoid arthritis for many years and had her first surgery in her early 20s. Her name and details will not be disclosed for privacy but I would like to summarize some of the points that are informing my project further. The interview revolved around questions about how she dealt with pain over the years and how that affected her relationships, specifically how communication changed over the year.