In 2003 the Actroid range of robotic androids was launched in Japan. Its creators and vendors imagine that the 'bots will integrate into society, taking on companionship, entertainment and hostessing duties. Actroids are modelled after young females, with the exception of (near) exact copies of two male Professors from Japan and Denmark, and a 'brother' released in 2011. Despite the theory of the so-called uncanny valley (Mori 1970), Actroids are designed to appear and behave as humanlike as possible so as to render them as familiar as possible, presaging a future of belonging, of ethically viable sociocultural identity (Ishiguro 2007).
Actroids' familiarity is achieved via re-inscription of stereotypically gendered cultural narratives and attributes, as the machinic 'women' enact media campaigns and advocacies that are reactionary and ideologically superseded (Robertson 2010, Suchman 2007). The routinely gendered hostess figure, capable only of a chronic and controlled performance and embodiment, is anachronistically emerging at the vanguard of futuristic design. She is being embedded in a new episteme, as our most advanced humanoid machines are shaped in her familiar image.
As a distilled marker of cosmopolitan hospitality, 'hostesses' are also gatekeepers at borders with respect to the locally and globally marginalized (Rosello 2001). Derrida (2000) argues that hospitality is the basis of all culture but cannot exist. Actroids embody this political impasse in their robotic gesturing of hospitableness; the trope's endurance is symptomatic of a world in which empathic sensibilities shift slowly—and sometimes regressively—while technologies evolve quickly. In this sense, paradoxically, they are 'human'.
Elena Knox, The University of New South Wales, Australia
Stream: Cultural Studies
This paper is part of the ACCS2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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