Jennifer Rhee – The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor


University of Minnesota Press, ISBN-13: 978-1517902988, English, 234 pages, 2018, USA

Contemporary robots (and robotic devices like drones) are at the forefront of embodying the ’future’ we imagined a few decades ago. Simultaneously their social role has started to be relevant as soon as it has decisively entered our economy. This book untangles some of the political aspects of the ‘robot imaginary’ that is both driving the industry and shaping customer’s desires. The author affirms that the universalisation of anthropomorphic robots is causing a loss of diversity, and a clearly ‘dehumanising’ process, as a combined consequence of ”devalued labor”. This is even clearer considering the role of the military in normalising this process, since robots has become a potentially popular subject. But Rhee doesn’t stop with history, read through a political lens, as she depicts a broader scenario, which includes films, literature, and robot-based art. Most of the robotic artworks are discussed at the end of chapters, to help the further elaboration on the constructed “imaginary”. They deeply question this imaginary in many respects, offering a detached vision even of the parallel and supporting development of AI, reaching the status of “situated robotics”. It is a perceptual narrative, which stems from society’s expectations, balanced through an accurate deconstructive critic and a proper socio-political frame of reference.