Social Anthropology - Robots, AI & Society

mercredi 1 juin 2022

4th Conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics, IACS4

Joffrey Becker, Virginie André and Alain Dutech

How do we make sense of a robot’s behavior? An experimental case study
4th Conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics
June 15th 2022

Robots are known for the uncanny feelings they trig in humans. Though they are frequently thought by analogy with living bodies, their social presence is difficult to grasp. Their activity engages those who observe them in a sort of game which consists of both making hypothesis about their expected social qualities and also seeking to define their status. Roboticists, through their work on the cognition of human-robot interaction and social robotics have understood this well (Siciliano & Khatib, 2016). Based on the observation that human-machine interaction follows the rules of social interaction between humans (Reeves & Nass, 1996), their work leads to the design of robots which form, behavior and processes invite their users to recognize the human in them. However, despite their continuous efforts, human-robot interaction never appear as natural to us as a peer interaction would be. For instance, the status of 'person' that is inferred during an interaction with a robot is characterized by instability and uncertainty (Vidal, 2007). It is also subject to various transformations during the interaction itself (Becker, 2015). Moreover, objects that do not resemble the human body give rise to social-like interpretations regarding their actions or even their potential intentions (Heider & Simmel, 1940). How do we make sense of a robot's behavior? Using an example of human-robot interaction, we will see how difficult it is to interpret the behavior of a machine. Leaning on an interdisciplinary experiment crossing the field of anthropology, socio-linguistics and robotics, we will focus on the terms used by a group of human participants to describe and qualify the behavior of a robot that has been initially designed to resist anthropomorphic type of inferences. The aim of this experiment is not to assess the quality of the robot's behavior so that it could carry the same meaning for everyone in further experiments, but rather to see to what extent the various movements produced by this object generate shared interpretations or not. By studying the semantic spaces occupied by the words used to describe the movements of the machine, we will see that the meaning given to its activity is based on various known elements which also depend directly on the very experience of the participants. These elements go far beyond a simple recognition of a human character into the object. We will see that such an interaction, though obvious limitations, implies that the participants infer on the perceived movement by using a complex set of analogies.

Conference program:

lundi 23 mai 2022

The Three Problems of Robots and AI

Becker, Joffrey. 2022. “The Three Problems of Robots and AI.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (5): 44-49

Using examples from an ethnographic survey I conducted with manufacturers, researchers and users of so-called intelligent systems, this paper seeks to show that the relationship between humans and machines raises at least three categories of problems. The first one refers to their status and to the way they rely on life processes to function. The second emerges from the very particular interactions humans can have with them. Finally, the third one is related to the ways in which they reconfigure human organizations and activities. Leaning on the description of these ontological, interactional and organizational dimensions, this article will argue that we cannot fully grasp the effects of robots and AI without taking these dimensions into account. … 

Read the rest of the article on Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective.


jeudi 21 avril 2022

Colloque "Science et spiritualité, entre dialogue et confrontation"

14 mai, 14:00 – 18:30
Patronage laïque Jules Vallès 
72 Av. Félix Faure, 75015 Paris, France

Près de quatre siècles après la condamnation de Galilée, le débat public sur le thème de la science et de la religion semble toujours polarisé par deux extrêmes. D’un côté, le délire créationniste, qui entend  nier certains acquis incontournables de la science, au nom d’une lecture fondamentaliste. De l’autre, le retentissement médiatique d’ouvrages de certains scientifiques qui entendent  prouver la non-existence de Dieu à l’aide d’arguments  scientifiques. Pourtant, ces positions sont assez marginales dans les deux  camps. Le piège de ces approches reste la confusion entre la  démarche scientifique d’une part, et la démarche religieuse d’autre part. Si l’on admet cette distinction, peut-on affirmer pour autant qu’il n’existe pas de dialogue possible entre science et religion? Et de manière plus large, entre une vision scientifique et une  conception spirituelle de l’homme et du monde ?


14h-16h - Croire et connaître 

Science et religion dans la philosophie d’Auguste Comte, 
par Annie Petit,  professeure émérite de philosophie – Université Paul-Valéry de Montpellier.

Albert Einstein : religion cosmique et science moderne, 
par Lydia Jaeger,  physicienne et théologienne, professeure et directrice des études à l’Institut  Biblique de Nogent, associée de recherche au St Edmund’s College, Université  de Cambridge.

Max Weber : penser le désenchantement du monde et une sociologie des religions, 
par  Laurent Fleury, professeur de sociologie, directeur des Masters « Politiques  culturelles » et « Sciences sociales » – Université Paris VII - Diderot.

16h30-18h30 - Science et spiritualité : une dualité universelle ?

La science en pays d’Islam, 
par Ahmed Djebbar, professeur émérite de  l’Université Lille 1 et chercheur en histoire des sciences. 

Place de la science dans la spiritualité chinoise, 
par Eulalie Steens, sinologue. 

Religion et intelligence artificielle, 
par Joffrey Becker, anthropologue affilié au  Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale.

mardi 12 avril 2022

c:o/re Workshop: Interdisciplinary Research in Robotics and AI

Disabled Chair, 2014 - 2019, prototype #3, Samuel Bianchini with the collaboration of Didier Bouchon
"Invisible Man" Exhibition, curating by Murray Horne, Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh, April 2019. Photo: © Samuel Bianchini - ADAGP
An artwork developed and prototyped as part of the research project “Behavioral Objects” of the Reflective Interaction Group of EnsadLab 
(laboratory of The École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs - PSL University).

 Joffrey Becker and Käte Hamburger Kolleg Aachen: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) 
RWTH Aachen University

c:o/re Workshop: Interdisciplinary Research in Robotics and AI
One-day workshop April 20 2022

To take part online, please register with

This workshop addresses interaction design by focusing on the notion of Behavioral Objects. Based on robotics and artificial intelligence, these non-anthropomorphic, non-zoomorphic objects are endowed with capacities for expressive movement, action and reactions and are also able to elicit observers’ behavioral interpretations (intentional and emotional attributions). They are therefore of interest to many fields of research like social sciences, humanities, robotics, computer sciences, art and design. The workshop will address the interdisciplinary framework opened by Behavioral Objects and the experimental perspective that brings together and combines these disciplines.


The Apprentices: Objects with Interacting Behaviours

Samuel Bianchini 
(Reflective Interaction Research Group/EndsadLab, 
École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, PSL University), 

Elena Tosi Brandi 
(Xdlab/Art Directions Nods, Orange)
Hugo Scurto 
(Inserm-Sorbonne Université and ISIR, CNRS Sorbonne-Université 
and Reflective Interaction Research Group)

The Appprentices is a design research project led by multidisciplinary teams from Orange Innovation and EnsadLab (the laboratory of the École des Arts Décoratifs, Paris). Following an experimental approach that combines human sciences (notably anthropology and cognitive sciences), robotics and computer sciences (machine learning) with digital creation and innovation, this project explores new relational modalities between humans and our robotic environments enhanced by artificial intelligence techniques. If our everyday objects might be empowered with abilities of movement and learning, action and reaction, and a behavioral dimension, how can we design new relationships with these robotic artefacts but also between them? 

This lunch talk will describe The Appprentices, an instrumental “dispositif” to experiment with such “behavioral objects”, focusing on an original dimension that allows movement and sound to be strongly paired: vibration, vibratory space as a system of communication and interaction. Specifically, the talk will detail the participatory design process that enabled practitioners and researchers from diverse disciplines to collaborate in the prototyping of the dispositif, in an attempt to entangle technical components of these robotic objects with concepts of agency, animacy, learning, and vibration.

05:00 – 07:00pm
Behavioral Objects, Agonistic Objects 
How and why to design art robotic objects fighting against and for their being conditions?

Samuel Bianchini 
(Reflective Interaction Research Group/EndsadLab, 
École nationale supérieure des Arts décoratifs, PSL University)

Created in an artistic context that also belongs to the wider field of robotics, “behavioral objects” are defined by their capacity to express a “personality” thanks to the quality of their movements and their actions and reactions, which are, in this case, regarded as “behaviors.” Non-figurative, these art objects have no need of being useful - their activity does not have a specific function or usage - and they have built-in energy sources that are, generally, not visible, making it impossible to attribute to a third party the energy directly required to make them move, the physical cause of their activity. 

If their expressive capacities can be provided through the ability to move and interact dynamically with the environment, what kind of interaction could we design to stimulate the attribution of behaviors and even personality? How to build an emotional and reflective relation with this robotics object through an aesthetic dimension in operation? 

Based on the presentation of several art projects developed in the framework of our Behavioral Objects research and creation project, we propose to consider the design of this objects through an agonistic approach. Even in operation, these objects are still in construction: in a kind of new homeostatic perspective, they are always seeking for their balance. They need to fight for that, against and for their being conditions. Exhibited such objects it is to exhibit this fight. It requires now to configure relations of forces, internal as with the environment. This new kind of settings as to consider aesthetic, symbolic and technical dimensions gathered in real-time operation. It raises the possibility of an agonistic design, a way to set conditions for a sensitive and reflective experience for objects and humans.

vendredi 8 avril 2022

Drôles d’Objets: A New Art of Making

[Reposted from KHK:]

Robots, autonomous artifacts, connected objects: how can we design and understand these strange objects that renew our interactions with others and the world around us? We are more and more often invited to enter into a relationship with robots or machines, whether for practical (therapeutic, professional, scientific) or playful purposes. This type of relationship is rapidly developing beyond simple functional use, automatic or mechanical action, towards a type of interaction that involves our effort to interpret the behavior of these objects. Why and how are we tempted to interact with unusual objects that ‘come to life’, move and evolve? The study of these objects interests a wide range of fields in science, art and design. I can mention, among others, robotics, AI, art and design, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, language sciences: each field develops its own notions, methods and tools, often in multidisciplinary contexts. What answers can the philosopher bring to the roboticist’s questions? How can psychology feed on the work of anthropology? Can artists contribute to the sociolinguistics of human-machine interactions?

In order to interface views in art, design and scientific practices on both these objects and the interactions they cause, the Psyphine research group joined forces with partners from the University of Lorraine, La Rochelle University and the Zero1 Festival for an interdisciplinary conference called “Drôles d’Objets” held during October 27th – 29th, 2021 in the harbour of La Rochelle [1]. In French, the adjective “drôle” covers a wide range of meanings and can be translated as amusing, entertaining, silly, creepy, surprising, funny, interesting, unusual, thought provoking, etc. The term refers to a complexity of issues which characterizes these curious objects as well as the various ways researchers, artists and designers address them.

The conference gathered more than 35 participants coming from various fields of research, such as computer sciences, robotics, art, design, psychology, management, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics. Organized around four main panels, the conference also devoted an afternoon to showcases, workshops and posters with Antoine Desjardin, Giancarlo Rizza, Dominique Deuff, Marion Voillot, Arnaud Blanchard, Romina Romay, Yann Boniface or Xavier Hinaut. The work of artists in residence Agustín Ramos Anzorena and Fabien Zocco (with his project Spider and I) were also presented during an evening session.

Starting with a session dedicated to conception practices, the conference first addressed questions related to the methods, tools and know-how associated with the design of interactive objects. How do we design an interactive animated object? What are the parameters, characteristics and properties we can play with so that an animated object becomes a “partner”? What are the tools, knowledge and technologies that can be mobilized? The first panel, coordinated by Nicolas Rougier, offered inputs on the diversity of approaches regarding not only the design of objects but also the tools and the methods employed to address conceptualizing from various disciplines. The session featured contributions from Jeanne Lallement and Juliette Passebois on service robots in commercial types of interaction, Mariela Yeregui on her research and creation project “États d’alerte” (State of alert), which illustrates the otherness of machines as a potential threat, Ghiles Mostafaoui on natural and intuitive interaction design in robotics and computer science, and Sylvain Raynal on the autonomy of the subject in his relation to industrial machinism and freedom.

The conference also addressed questions on the observation and the interpretation of results. How can we design an experiment? How can we understand what is happening during an interaction with an animated object? What can we measure, evaluate, and observe? What do we learn from these experiences? How to interpret data from experiments with animated objects? Can we trust the testimony of the subjects? Coordinated by Valeria Giardino, this second panel gathered contributions from Guillaume Nassau, who asked whether a robot is perceived as an interactant or as an object for discussion, and Manuel Rebuschi, who explored questions associated to mental projections and animism using Kendall Walton’s theory of fiction.

I had the pleasure to coordinate the third session, focused on health- and care-related issues. Robotics and computer sciences have entered this field in various ways. A number of projects are, for instance, concerned with the cohabitation of humans and robots. Some aim at replacing humans in work situations. Robots are also used as a new sort of mediation tool for caregivers. However, their therapeutic contribution remains difficult to establish. With contributions from Jean-Pierre Merlet on the conception and the experimentation of assistive robotic objects, Gloria Michiels on the ethnography of humanoid robots in care spaces, Olivier Duris and Charlotte Labossière on the use of robots regarding children suffering from autistic spectrum disorders, and Quentin Dumoulin on the role that fabrication laboratories could play in pedopsychiatry, the panel addressed questions raised by robots and artificial intelligent-based objects. Are they useful tools or rather gadgets? What is their role? Is their aesthetic appearance important? Do they replace the work of caregivers or are they rather a new tool in the therapeutic process?

Finally, the last session coordinated by Virgine André addressed experiences conducted on telepresence, interactive systems and virtual reality. Gathering researchers mainly working in the field of language and education sciences, the panel explored the effects of telepresence oriented technologies on social interaction. Maud Ciekanski and Virginie Privas-Breauté presented the results of a comparative study of immersive technologies for language learning. Jean-François Grassin showed how telepresence robots modify attention processes during a meeting. Joséphine Rémon, Christelle Combe and Amélie Bouquain, presented an experimentation on telepresence robots conducted within the project “présence numérique” (digital presence). Caroline Vincent, Christine Develotte, Mabrouka El Hachani and Justine Lascar addressed the methodology for studying interactions in mixed groups using telepresence robots.

The conference concluded with an intervention by anthropologist Denis Vidal and neuroscientist Frédéric Alexandre who aimed to put into perspective the work conducted during the week for a larger audience. The recording of their intervention, which is in French, can be viewed on the website of the University of Lorraine:

This interdisciplinary conference showed the necessity of crossing the viewpoints of different disciplines when it comes to the design of interactive robotic systems. It showed that despite the differences, only a transversal approach involving engineering sciences, humanities and social sciences, artists and users can address the major issues that these “drôles d’objets” pose to our societies.

[1] The proceedings of the conference can be found here.

Käte Hamburger Kolleg (c:o/re) - Lecture Series

Social Anthropologist Joffrey Becker, Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) at RWTH Aachen University and Research Associate at Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale at the Collège de France, talks about human-machine interactions and social changes associated to the design of intelligent systems. This talk was part of the Lecture Series „Digitalization of Research” at c:o/re.

mercredi 23 mars 2022

Ciné Campagn'art - Rogery


Séverine Lagneaux et moi revenons demain sur les lieux de notre film Routines dans le cadre du ciné Campagn'art.


Réalisation : Séverine Lagneaux et Joffrey Becker 

Production : Jean-Frédéric de Hasque 

Montage : Bruno Tracq 

Durée : 36 minutes 

Filmé en Belgique dans un élevage laitier de la Région wallonne, Routines décrit le quotidien de l’exploitation et les reconfigurations liées à sa robotisation. En adoptant le point de vue des acteurs humains, animaux ou mécaniques, le film explore la façon dont la robotique et l’informatique transforment les interactions et les pratiques domesticatoires. 

Rien à voir, CNRS, Fondation Fyssen / 2022

lundi 7 mars 2022

Royal Anthropological Institute - Virtual Conference

Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society

6 -10 June 2022


P14 - Controlled Environment Facilities and the Visualisation of Future Human Society

Convenors: Elie Danziger (Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale [Collège de France - PSL, CNRS, EHESS]), Perig Pitrou (CNRS - PSL) & Teresa Castro (Sorbonne Nouvelle)


Living in a Loop

A Visual Ethnography of Routines in a Robotic Dairy Farm 

Joffrey Becker (RWTH Aachen University)

Severine Lagneaux (CRA-W [Belgique])

Robotic dairy farms constitute a special kind of controlled ecosystem. They form a space where relations between humans and animals combine with the activity of computer systems and robots in what appear to be a complete redistribution of relations in an adapted and a digitalised infrastructure. Do such hybrid systems raise new issues regarding the routines which characterize the activities in the barn? What new socio-technical arrangements are emerging from robotics and computer science practices?

Based on film, our ethnography shows that while robotic milking is a further step in the rationalization of milk production processes, the integration of robots, sensors to acquire data, and computer systems to process them introduces changes in the relation between the farmer and his herd. These systems therefore imply new arrangements between humans, animals and machines, which consist of a new method to achieve an optimized level of performance. Questioning the impact that socio-material organisation can have on activities in a community composed of humans, technical devices and non-humans, our ethnographic study resulted in a documentary film called Routines.

Taking place in a Belgian dairy farm of the Walloon region, Routines describes the daily life of the farm and the reconfigurations linked to its robotisation. By adopting the point of view of human, animal or mechanical actors, the film addresses the way in which robotics and computer technology contribute to transform not only the work activities but also the interactions and practices of domestication.

Ph.D Course - New technologies and the future of the human

28-31 March 2022


Centre Universitaire de Norvège à Paris
54, Boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris

New ways of being human and social

The course is dedicated to an investigation of the imaginary projects of technoscience, in which new ways of being human and new ways of being social are being developed. This is going to be an exploratory course, mobilizing what we think we know about the human being into thinking and speculating about what the future might bring. In this effort the lecturers and students together will equally be searching for possible entries into an understanding.

Technological innovation in human-computer interfaces, medical breakthroughs in nano- and biotechnology, infrastructural transformations of urban orders, algorithmic government, new technologies to intervene in anthropogenic climate change, all seriously challenge established understandings of the human being and its environment.

Moral, existential and ontological questions

What will be the nature of the human being in the future? What are the potentials of new genetics? Of cloning? Can AI develop human qualities? What happens to social relations when we are primarily living in digital, virtual spaces? What social status do robots, avatar and digital selves acquire? What is the future of cities when scientists predict radical life-threatening climate disasters, and even their extinction? And, what do the new technologies of surveillance, climate regulations and "greening" policies entail for the institutional frames for human life?

In the age of technoscience, the very idea of what a human being is, has come to be fundamentally challenged: in new human-machine interfaces, in human enhancements technologies, in synthetic biology and genetic engineering, as well as new nature/culture relationships. Active transhumanist movements work for ideological and political backing for the investments in science that can bring about a new and potentially enhanced and even immortal human form. The idea of a future where humans live in space are not only the fantasies of California billionaires like Elon Musk, or sci-fi movies, but has become imaginative grounds for social movements, especially in the U.S. and Russia but also across the globe.

Lecturers: Joffrey Becker (KHK c:o/re, RWTH Aachen University), Anya Bernstein (Harvard University), Bjørn Enge Bertelsen (UiB), Kerry Chance (UiB), Annelin Eriksen (UiB), Alexandre Mazel (R3S, Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital & Sorbonne University, Paris), Alexandre Pitti (Laboratoire ETIS, CY Cergy Paris Université, ENSEA, CNRS), Knut Rio (UiB)

Information and program:

mardi 1 février 2022

Workshop - Explainable AI and explanations in AI

Organized by Markus Pantsar & Frederik Stjernfelt
February 2nd, 2022
RWTH Aachen University, Theaterplatz 14, room 303 and online

One important challenge in machine learning is the “black box” problem, in which an artificial intelligence reaches a result without any humans being able to explain why. This problem is typically present in deep artificial neural networks, in which the hidden layers are impenetrable. To tackle this problem, researchers have introduced the no- tion of explainable AI (XAI), artificial intelligence the results of which can be understood by humans. The XAI position is usually characterised in terms of three properties: transparency, interpretability, and explainability. While the first two have standard def- initions, explainability is not understood in a uniform manner. What does explainability mean? What kind of AI is explainable? Can there be properly explainable machine learning systems? In this workshop, we discuss a variety of approaches to these topics in connection to fundamental questions in artificial intelligence. What are explanations in AI? What do AI systems explain and how? How does AI explanation relate to the topics of human understanding and intelligence?

Confirmed speakers are: Jobst Landgrebe (Cognotekt Köln), Markus Pantsar (University of Helsinki, c:o/re), Frederik Stjernfelt (Aalborg University Copenhagen, c:o/re), Gabriele Gramelsberger (c:o/re Aachen), Ana L. C. Bazzan (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, c:o/re Aachen), Joffrey Becker (Laboratoire d‘Anthropologie Sociale, c:o/re Aachen), Daniel Wenz (CSS Lab RWTH Aachen), and Andreas Kaminski (High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart).

Information and Program:

lundi 24 janvier 2022

ROUTINES — a film by Séverine Lagneaux & Joffrey Becker


a film by Joffrey Becker & Séverine Lagneaux

Filmé en Belgique dans un élevage laitier de la Région wallonne, Routines décrit le quotidien de l’exploitation et les reconfigurations liées à sa robotisation. En adoptant le point de vue des acteurs humains, animaux ou mécaniques, le film explore la façon dont la robotique et l’informatique transforment les interactions et les pratiques domesticatoires.

Filmed in Belgium in a dairying farm in the Walloon region, Routines describes the daily life of the farm and the reconfigurations linked to its robotisation. By adopting the point of view of human, animal or mechanical actors, the film explores the way in which robotics and computer technology transform interactions and domestic practices.

produced by Rien à Voir, CNRS, Fyssen Fund

2022 — documentary — 36 minutes

directors —  S. Lagneaux & J. Becker

camera — S. Lagneaux & J. Becker 

sound — S. Lagneaux & J. Becker

producer — JF de Hasque

editor — B. Tracq

Drôles d'Objets - Conférence de cloture

Dans cette synthèse, Frédéric Alexandre (Neurosciences / INRIA) et Denis Vidal (Anthropologie / IRD - EHESS) reviennent sur les travaux conduits lors de la conférence Droles d'Objets qui s'est tenue à La Rochelle du 27 au 29 octobre 2021.

Vidéo réalisée par Hélènise Fasquelle