José, un robot autista (José, an autistic robot)

Ricardo Iglesias

30 March 2007

Robotic action

The simple fact that the word “robot” comes from the word for “servant” in Czech demonstrates that the notion that robots were created to serve us is deeply embedded in the popular psyche. They bring to mind Homer’s golden maidens, the mechanical assistants built by Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of metallurgy, or the first stories of automatons during the Han dynasty of ancient China. Mythical tales, fantasies and true events throughout history show that while the development of robots has pursued the ideal of an automated anthropomorphic servant, there are also deep fears lodged in our imagination that machines might rebel against humans, throwing off the shackles of slavery.

While Cybernetics established the basis for the science of controlling machines, it was gradually transformed into a complex dialogue with those machines due to the need to create structures epistemologically adaptive to the environment to achieve improved functionality. We have gone from control over to dialogue with machines and today we share our everyday lives with all kinds of small robots at our service, which form part of our environment, handling the menial tasks we are unwilling to do ourselves.

But what happens if we can no longer communicate with the robots we live with? What happens when a robot does not respond properly to external stimuli? What ontological status does that robot acquire, once freed of its functionality and dependence on humans? To explore these matters, Ricardo Iglesias created José, an autistic robot with social aversion and no communication with the environment. That is why José does not respond normally to external stimuli. Instead, he shows fear when faced with any kind of contact or interaction with humans that upsets his inner world, as occurs in autistic behaviour.

José, equipped with his Arduino microcontroller, his sensors that allow him to perceive his environment, and his activators that allow him to move around, takes on an unusual presence as he behaves absently, avoiding any interaction with his active environment. José moves through solipsistic loops, goes into a panic when he perceives that he is completely surrounded, shows anger if caressed, and displays the range of his adverse reactions to communication, reversing the image of robots as submissive, obedient, controllable machines with no autonomy or independence in relation to human plans. As a result, José acquires a name of his own.

Pau Alsina

Programming and development: Gerald Kogler and Mario Ruiz Aldano

Thanks to: AVAM