Beyond Anthropomorphism Symposium

International Symposium

The University of Sydney

Beyond anthropomorphism: Rethinking human-machine relations in robotics and A.I.

Tuesday June 11 and Wednesday June 12

The Beyond Anthropomorphism symposium challenges the popular expectation that the perfect future robot will be indistinguishable from, or superior to humans, or that humans will be perfectible through technology. Drawing on the latest research in engineering, social sciences and humanities, this event will evaluate the current state-of-the art against these fantastic visions. AI, robotics and social robotics were founded on the metaphors of the thinker, the labourer and, most recently, the companion. This symposium will explore where these metaphors are productive, and where they are misleading to provide a more grounded understanding of the likely futures for these exciting and terrifying technologies.

This symposium is organised by the University of Sydney Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems SIRIS (previously Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems), in collaboration with the Sociotechnical Futures Lab (STuF) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the University of Sydney Business School.

*This program is a draft and it is current at the time of publishing. Further changes and updates will follow.

Download Symposium Program

Tuesday 11 June 2019

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Co-hosted by Sydney Ideas at SSB Lecture Theatre 200 Social Sciences Building

6pm: Opening by Ian Manchester, Associate Director, Sydney Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (previously Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems)

Chair: Naoko Abe & Chris Chesher

6.10pm: Minoru Asada (Osaka University, Japan)

Watch an introduction to How to Design Artificial Moral Agents Towards a Symbiotic Society here

6.30pm: Raya Jones (Cardiff University, UK)

Watch an introduction to Anthropomorphism as a Dialogue with Ourselves here

6.50pm: Discussion and Q&A

7.30pm: End of Day 1

Wednesday 12 June 2019

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Lecture Theatre 1130 Abercrombie Business School Building

9am: Registration


9.30am: Laurence Devillers (Sorbonne University/CNRS, France)

Watch an introduction to Bad Nudge Bad Robot: Ethical Issues here

Chair: Naoko Abe

10.20: Coffee Break


Chair: Kai Riemer

10.40am: Mike Seymour (University of Sydney, Australia)

The Arms Race of Faces: AI, Agency and Identity

11.10am: Chris Chesher & Fiona Andreallo (University of Sydney, Australia)

Eye, vision and gaze in science fiction and social robotics

11.40am: Katsumi Watanabe (Waseda University, Japan, University of New South Wales, Australia)

Agency, experience, and social interactions in cognitive scientific views

12.10pm: Lunch


Chair: Justine Humphry

1.10pm: Naoko Abe (University of Sydney, Australia)

Generating anthropomorphic motion and sociological perspective

1.40pm: Simon Coghlan, Lucy Sparrow, Martin Gibbs, Jenny Waycott (University of Melbourne, Australia)

The human touch: Ethical dimensions of care robots made “in our image”

2.10pm: Yolande Strengers (Monash University, Australia) & Jenny Kennedy (RMIT University, Australia)

Turn me on, turn me off

2.20pm Coffee Break


Chair: Jolynna Sinanan

2.40pm: Yuji Sone (Macquarie University, Australia)

Hiroshi Ishiguro’s android science: The fabulation of “upstream engagement” and entertainment

3.10pm: Jason Tuckwell (Western Sydney University, Australia)

Technē, agency and computation

3.30pm: Ed Santow (Australian Human Rights Commission, Australia)

Of AI, horses and jockeys: Re-negotiating our relationship with machines in the era of AI

4pm: Toby Walsh (University of New South Wales, Australia)

Artificial and Natural Minds

4.30pm Break


Chair: Chris Chesher

4.40pm: Panel discussion

5.40: End of Day 2

Voice and Participation in Global Food Politics

Friday 17 May, 3.00pm – 5.00pm

The Forest Lodge Hotel, 117 Arundel St, Forest Lodge

Register via Sydney Environment Institute

Food politics is where the social, the technical, the cultural, the economic – and the environment – meet. But where is the democracy in our foodways? Most decisions about our food environments are left to profit-seeking companies and policy-makers who are out of touch with the lived experiences of food insecurity.  In this book Alana Mann draws on her international research into social learning and movement-building to suggest how ordinary people can have voice and participate in the co-design of food environments that are fairer, tastier, and healthier. That means respecting many choices based on culture, capacity, nutritional needs, and preference in diets, and doing so within planetary boundaries that respect the non-human too.

Join us at the Forest Lodge Hotel, Glebe, from 3pm for the official launch of the Voice and Participation in Global Food Politics, a short lecture and Q & A, all followed by festivities.

Alana Mann is Chair of the Department of Media and Communications within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the engagement of citizens and non-state actors in activism and policy debates to inform the creation of just and sustainable food systems. She is a lead researcher with the Sydney Environment Institute.

Danielle Celermajer is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research stands at the interface of theories exploring the multi-dimensional nature of injustice and the practice of human rights. She is the lead of Multispecies Justice Project, one of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences six flagship research themes.

Myths, Mistakes, and #FakeNews: A Historical Perspective

Tuesday 14 May, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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Fake news has existed since the dawn of modern journalism. Yet the term itself largely entered the popular lexicon only in the last decade. For all the public discussion of fake news, an agreed-upon definition, and a general understanding of the phenomenon, has largely escaped consensus. Is fake news any erroneous information delivered with an intention to deceive? Or is it the biased selection of facts without context? Is it simply propaganda by another name – or is it something else?

This talk discusses typologies of Fake News by focusing on a singular, illuminating case study: the mythic panic in response to Orson Welles’s ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast in 1938. Several themes emerge when closely examining initial reportage of the infamous mass panic that did not actually occur. Newspaper journalists reporting on the audience response to the program in the first two days after the broadcast often provided inaccurate, biased, and unverified information to their readers. Learning how this happened, and why it happened, and how it shaped history, will help us sharpen our critical skills and develop the type of media literacy that’s particularly relevant in today’s media environment.


Michael J. Socolow is an Associate Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine [USA]. He is a 2019 Fulbright Research Scholar at the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. The author of Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcast Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics, Socolow writes on U.S. media history, propaganda, and sports broadcasting. Professor Socolow is a former journalist, having worked as an Assignment Editor for CNN in Los Angeles, where he helped cover such stories as the O.J. Simpson trial and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and he worked as an Information Manager for the Host Broadcast Organizations at the Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney Olympics. His journalistic columns on media history have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, and numerous other outlets.


Dr Margaret Van Heekeren was appointed to a Lecturer position in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney in February 2019. She is a journalism historian, and a founding member of Macquarie University’s Centre for Media History. Dr Van Heekeren’s research interests include the history of fake news and false news, the history of ideas in Australian journalism, and continuity and change in news reporting practices. She will present her research findings on fake news at the 2019 International Communication Association conference in Washington DC in May.

This event is presented by the Department of Media and Communications (University of Sydney) as part of the Media@Sydney Seminar Series and the Centre for Media History (Macquarie University).

Automating the Social: Digital Futures for Welfare, Disability, Social, and Health Services

Friday 10 May, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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This event will be live streamed with captions on Facebook. To view, follow the MECO Research page on Facebook.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of automation, and associated developments in digital technology, data, and AI, being imagined and deployed to reshape the face of welfare, disability, health, and social services. Major programs in governments departments such Social Security and Health, the ambitions and realities of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and initiatives by private, not-for-profit, and NGO providers and organizations, involve reconfiguring service delivery and support via automation and digital innovations. Already there are many changes and benefits in people’s lives from these new systems and digitally-supported economies of care and support, yet there are key challenges and potential losses also – not least from the kind of new power relationships, failures in accountability and participation, and foreclosure of the complex aspects of people’s lived experience that such systems and practices are supposed to respond to and enhance.

In this timely event, we will hear from leading figures in various areas where new regimes of automation are rapidly proceeding – and will have the opportunity for an interactive discussion to identify and debate key issues to be addressed, and options for how we might shape these emerging technical and social systems in humane and fair ways.


Paul Henman is Associate Professor of Digital Sociology and Social Policy, and Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Policy Futures, The University of Queensland. For over 20 years, his research has examined the nexus of information technologies, public administration and social policy. His publications include Governing Electronically (Palgrave 2010) and Performing the State (Routledge 2018). His current research deploys novel digital methods to understand the web ecology of government and human service delivery.

El Gibbs is Media and Campaigns Manager at People With Disability Australia. PWDA is a national disability rights, advocacy and representative organisation that is made up of, led and governed by people with disability. Founded in 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons, People with Disability Australia provides people with disability with a voice of our own. PWDA has a cross-disability focus representing the interests of people with all kinds of disability and is a non-profit, non-government organisation.

Leanne Dowse is Professor and Chair in Intellectual Disability and Behaviour Support [IDBS] at UNSW where she has been a researcher since 1995 and an academic since 2008. Leanne’s research and publications apply models of critical inquiry to the study of disability and in particular, intellectual or cognitive disability. Her work utilises a multidisciplinary approach to investigate social justice issues for people with complex needs. In particular her work addresses the intersections of disability with mental illness, acquired brain injury, homelessness, social isolation, early life disadvantage, experience of out of home care, substance misuse and violence. Her work is particularly concerned with the ways these intersect for Indigenous Australians with intellectual disability, for women with disabilities, those in the criminal justice system, and people with complex behaviour support needs. Leanne has been and is chief investigator on a number of major Australian Research Council, NHMRC, and Federal and NSW government funded grants over the past 10 years.

Wayne Hawkins is Disability Policy Advisor with the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN). Wayne has led ACCAN’s work on telecommunications access for consumers with disability, telecommunications affordability and emergency services. Prior to joining ACCAN Wayne was National policy officer with Blind Citizens Australia. Wayne is a doctoral candidate at Sydney University researching Australian telecommunications and disability policies.

Gerard Goggin is the inaugural Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, a position he has held since 2011. Gerard’s research focusses on social, cultural, and political aspects of digital technologies, especially the Internet and mobile media and communication, and disability and accessibility. He has published 20 books and over 170 journal articles and book chapters. As well as his academic roles, Goggin has had a twenty-year involvement in communications and telecommunications policy, including appointments as a board member of the Disability Studies and Research Institute (DsaRI), foundation board member of the peak organization Australian Consumer Communication Action Network (ACCAN), deputy chair of the self-regulatory body Telephone Information Services Standards Council (TISSC), and member of the Australian e-Research Infrastructure Council (AeRIC).


Live Captioning for Media@Sydney

Posted by MECO Research on Thursday, 9 May 2019

Digital Knowledge Resources in the Caribbean and Pacific

Friday, 3 May, 2019, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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From YouTube to Talanoa: Digital Knowledge Resources in the Caribbean and Pacific

Theories of learning in and through digital media have largely drawn upon research in Western contexts such as the US and UK. Yet, as sociocultural learning theory has demonstrated, context often requires a re-thinking of the spaces and practices of learning. This seminar examines digital media and learning practices among tertiary sector educators and students at national and regional universities in Fiji and Trinidad. Comparing the use of knowledge resources in each context, we highlight the ways in which learning practices are situated in wider, everyday practices and social relationships and how technology landscapes and infrastructures work together to shape practices of collaboration and peer-to-peer learning.

Heather Horst is Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. She is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses upon understanding how digital media, technology and other forms of material culture mediate relationships, communication, learning, mobility and our sense of being human. Her books examining these themes include The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication (Horst and Miller, Berg, 2006),Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with Digital Media (Ito, et al. 2010, MIT Press), Digital Anthropology (Horst and Miller, Eds., 2012, Berg), Digital Ethnography (Pink, Horst, et al. 2016, Sage) and The Moral Economy of Mobile Phones: Pacific Perspectives (Foster and Horst, 2018, ANU Press).

Jolynna Sinanan is Research Fellow in Digital Media and Ethnography at the University of Sydney. Her research focusses upon uses of digital media in different cultural contexts in relation to family relationships, gender and migration. Her books include Social Media in Trinidad (UCL Press, 2017), Visualising Facebook(Miller and Sinanan, UCL Press, 2017), Webcam (Miller and Sinanan, Polity, 2014) and How the World Changed Social Media(Miller et. al. 2016, UCL Press).

Fulori Manoa is a researcher from the University of the South Pacific. Her research interests include online and mobile learning in the Pacific Islands, Pacific Islands regionalism and diplomacy.

Sheba Mohammid has over 10 years experience in digital media policy. Her research focuses on how learning is practiced in formal and informal landscapes in a variegated knowledge society, and how people enact learning in their everyday lives through a variety of literacies and fluencies. Dr Mohammid’s applied work has included leadership roles in managing national development projects and serving as ICT policy specialist for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and a director on the Global Social Media Impact Study. Her academic and applied interests have intersected as she has strategised and delivered e-learning to participants from over 50 countries.

Media, Context and the Shaping of Contemporary Movements across the Atlantic – Marta Vilar Rosales, University of Lisbon

Friday, 5 April, 2019, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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This presentation explores the present-day circulations between Portugal and Brazil. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out over four years on both Atlantic coasts, the presentation examines a particular aspect of a broad and complex field of research in contemporary mobility studies – how and to what extent migrants interact with and make use of media contents to feed imaginaries and expectations, design positioning strategies, manage belonging and handle exclusion and inclusion in the different spatial, cultural and political contexts that comprise their migration experiences. The presentation examines print content published by the Portuguese media during the time frame of analysis (2011-15). The discussion will focus on three topics: Portugal as a hospitable and inclusive context to foreign middle classes; the attractiveness of diverse migration destinations to the Portuguese population; and the particular social, economic and political framework at play at the time, which promoted the simultaneous exploration of pull and push factors for migration in Portugal and Brazil, by the Portuguese media.

Marta Vilar Rosales holds a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (2007), an MA in Culture, Communication and ICT (1999) and a BA (1994) from ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon. Her main interests of research are contemporary material culture and consumption, Portuguese migrations and migration movements in the Lusophone space, colonialism and post-colonialism and media anthropology. Until recently, she was researcher at CRIA – Centre for Research in Anthropology, where she coordinated the Research Line Migrations, Ethnicity and Citizenship, and associated assistant professor at the Anthropology Department, Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Currently she is researcher at ICS – Universidade de Lisboa. She also integrated IMISCOE (an European research network of excellence on migration studies) between 2007 and 2010. Since obtaining her PhD, she has participated in seven research projects. Currently is principal researcher of two projects. Since 2006, she has been involved in establishing and promoting international cooperation actions between Portuguese and Brazilian research teams who share scientific interests in contemporary material culture and consumption studies. From these actions, which resulted in the organisation of an international conference (two editions) and in the new international peer review journal (in English) Consumption, Culture and Society.

Communicative Reflexivity and Financial Bubbles: Linking Minsky to Marx – Peter Thompson, Victoria University of Wellington

Tuesday 2 April, 2019, 3pm – 4.30pm

Seminar Room 203, RD Watt Building, University of Sydney

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The aim of this paper is to outline a communicative framework for understanding the reflexive, constitutive role of financial information in the generation and annihilation of financial bubbles. In contrast to the neoclassical economic notion of efficient markets which implicitly assume that information is representative of fundamental market conditions, the approach here highlights the reflexive, constitutive role of information in shaping market reality. This approach emphasizes the potential for financial feedback loops between financial actors and media to endogenously (and performatively) shape market expectations and the symbolic ontology of fictitious asset values.

This analysis is then linked to Hyman Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH) which identified the central role of credit expansion and leverage in driving cycles of endogenous asset price inflation and collapse. The value of linking Minsky’s FIH to communicative processes is twofold: a) it provides the basis for a more complete analysis of how financial investors respond to the market signals their own activities generate (e.g. asset price inflation leading to discounted risk and cheaper credit) and b) by foregrounding the symbolic processes underpinning trading activity and the generation (and annihilation) financial asset values, it provides a link between the FIH to a revised Marxist account of finance capital’s crisis tendency.

Peter Thompson is a senior lecturer in Victoria University of Wellington’s media studies programme. Primarily, a political economist, his research interests include communication processes in financial markets as well as analyses of media policy. Peter is a founding co-editor of the Political Economy of Communication journal and is currently vice-chair of the IAMCR political economy section. He is also chair of the Better Public Media trust which campaigns for public interest media policy in New Zealand.

De-/Re-Constructing home – Maren Hartmann, University of Arts, Berlin

Friday 29 March, 2019, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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De-/Re-Constructing home: Notions of home and homelessness in times of mobile media

One of the always-taken-for-granted, but yet again constantly shifting concepts within media and cultural studies is the home. Maren Hartmann’s talk aims to unpack and map different understandings of the notion of home – both in media studies and beyond, but also in terms of both ontological and epistemological aspects. Four main – and rather diverse – foci shall serve to aid this mapping process: a) a (brief) feminist take on the household and home; b) a definition of home in the context of homelessness; c) the (media studies) concept of domestication and d) the home button. Next to often taking the notion and existence of home for granted, we often rely on “being-at-home” for our well-being and our identity-formation. In times, however, where insecurities seem once again on the rise, we need to take a new look at the interconnection between home and being-at-home. Drawing on work on homelessness, this talk proposes the concept of homing – making oneself at home in diverse ways. It also addresses the question what role media can play therein.

Maren Hartmann is professor of communication and media sociology at the University of Arts (UdK) in Berlin, Germany. She has worked at universities in the UK, Belgium and Germany and been a visiting scholar in Denmark and Sweden. In 2019, she is a Visiting Scholar in the SLAM Department of Media and Communications. Her work has four main foci: media and time; appropriation, esp. domestication; media and mobilities; home & homelessness. She has published widely in these fields. Maren is also involved in international organizations (Academiae Europeana, the German DGPuK and ECREA) and a regular guest at international conferences. 


Justine Humphry is a Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. Her previous appointments include Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis at Western Sydney University and Research Fellow in Digital Media at the University of Sydney.

Automated Decision Making and Society – Julian Thomas

Friday 15 March, 2019, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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Digital media industries are at the head of a new wave of automation, driven by an expanding array of intelligent technologies, from deep learning to blockchains. Automation promises great benefits, but concerns abound over the prospects of industry disruption, increasing inequality, declining productivity, and diminishing economic security. With the rapid expansion of automated decision making, new risks to human rights and welfare are emerging. This talk reviews current developments in automation, and considers the ways in which researchers in media studies may contribute to the emergence of ethical, responsible and inclusive automation.

Julian Thomas is Professor of Media and Communications at RMIT University. He leads the Technology, Communications and Policy Lab in RMIT’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre. Julian’s recent publications include Internet on the Outstation (INC, 2016), Measuring the Digital Divide (2016, 2017, 2018), The Informal Media Economy (Polity, 2015), and Fashioning Intellectual Property (Cambridge UP, 2012). He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and is actively involved in a wide range of consumer, research and policy organisations in the technology and communications sectors.