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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities



Artificial Intimacies: Eldercare Robots and Animate Companionship

Mitali Thakor • Wesleyan University 

February 27th @ 6pm • via Zoom

The demand for service robots has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the primary sites for development of such robots is in eldercare nursing. Eldercare robots seem to promise a continuation of care not otherwise possible under current medical infrastructures in the US. These robots purport to stave off loneliness, provide a watchful eye to alert family members and emergency medical personnel, and enhance clients’ therapeutic care by engaging memory recall and language skills. This talk draws on preliminary fieldwork into the design and use of “animate companion” commercial robots in caregiving settings in the U.S. and Netherlands. It considers how animate companionship with carebots might generate new relational configurations marked by co-produced pleasure and humor rather than merely extractive forms of care. Commercial carebots often take other-than-human form, as pet animals or caricatured children. How does the material form of robots matter in supporting the production of a caring, companionate relationship? Approaching caregiving as motivated by curiosity rather than curative ideologies, Thakor suggests that animate companionship provided by robotic pets and children opens up opportunities for human-nonhuman intimacies that rely on artificiality, intimacies that are strategically possible only because of their performative and contrived material forms.

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Center for the Humanities · 95 Pearl Street, Middletown, CT 06459

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