Social Robots: A Bridge Between the Two Cultures


This paper aims to show the possible and actual synergies between social robotics and sociology. The author argues that social robots are one of the best fields of inquiry to provide a bridge between the two cultures — the one represented by the social sciences and the humanities on the one hand, and the one represented by the natural sciences and engineering on the other. To achieve this result, quantitative and qualitative analyses are implemented. By using scientometric tools like Ngram Viewer, search engines such as Google Scholar, and hand calculations, the author detects the emergence of the term-and-concept ‘social robots’ in its current use, the absolute and relative frequencies of this term in the scientific literature in the period 1800–2008, the frequency distribution of publications including this term in the period 2000–2019, and the magnitude of publications in which the term ‘social robots’ is associated to the term ‘sociology’ or ’social work’. Finally, employing qualitative analysis and focusing on exemplary cases, this paper shows different ways of implementing researches that relate sociology to robotics, from a theoretical or instrumental point of view. It is argued that sociologists and engineers could work in a team to observe, analyze, and describe the interaction between humans and social robots, by using research techniques and theoretical frames provided by sociology. In turn, this knowledge can be used to build more effective and humanlike social robots.

Keywords: social robots, sociology, social work, meta-analysis, scientometrics

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