Call: “Do Robots Talk?” – Philosophical Relevance of Describing Human-Machine Communication (at AISB)

Call for Abstracts

“Do Robots Talk?” – The Philosophical Relevance of Describing Human-Machine Communication
A symposium at the AISB-20 Annual Convention

Organized by the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB;
St Mary’s University
Twickenham, London
6-9 April 2020

Abstract deadline: January 10, 2020


In many general as well as philosophical debates about the role of NLP [Natural Language Processing] driven technology, for example chatbots, there is a distinct lack of differentiation in describing what the context and content of human-machine communication consists in. For many authors, interactions with chatbots are simply named “talking” with them in a rather innocuous manner, implying that there is a “conversation” taking place. Apparently, we can also be in “debates” or “chatter” with NLP driven programs; and even more pronounced function- and purpose guided interactions (e.g. with service robots) might constitute some sort of “discourse” or “interlocution”. Some of those interactions also become more intimate and sophisticated, which allows for further differentiations of those conversations, such as “flirts” or “banter”, or an exchange of arguments, which might constitute a “dispute”. In some of those communications, the AI counts as a more or less equal part, in others, such as moral discourse, the majority of philosophers appear to claim a principal difference between human and machine speakers, based on assumptions of what constitutes a “moral subject”.

Thereby, asking how NLP driven technology takes part in human-machine communication, whether applying concepts and methods of human communication are conducive for our understanding of these interactions, and if such understanding might actually be adequate for present and future forms of human-machine communication might not only fill a lack of conceptual clarity, but also have great impact on our current and prospective interaction with robots. The answers and discussions around those questions may also contribute to a bigger common ground concerning human-machine communication to reevaluate debates about ontological issues of agency or ascriptions of specific moral, legal, social or psychological features to robots.

This discussion session invites philosophers and practitioners alike who have worked in human-machine communication and encourages them to discuss the appropriate descriptors and their philosophical and practical implications for assessing the role robots can, will and should, or cannot, won’t and shouldn’t take in human-machine communication. The assumed contrast between working assumptions of engineers and the rather abstract philosophical basis of what constitutes a “discourse” (and discourse participants) promises to lead to productive and clarifying debates.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Discourse ethics and artificial discourse participants
  • Ontological and epistemological challenges in recognizing robots as equals / as others
  • General speech act theory and specific speech act analyses
  • Normative conventions in communication and their artificial reproduction (politeness, compliments)
  • Robot “colleagues” and relations of workers to robots
  • Human-robot friendships and conditions of “trust”
  • Robot Agency, Robot Responsibility, Robot Rights
  • Feminist approaches to interacting with and addressing robots
  • Intercultural issues with approaching non-human speakers
  • Communicative Presuppositions in human-machine communication
  • The nature of a conversation: what could be the markers of what is considered a “real” conversation?
  • From ELIZA to Conversation Analysis: does a conversation participant need to feel “heard”?
  • What is meaning and how is it created? How are concepts linked together to create meaning?
  • How can a computational approach deal with the ambiguity of human language?


Please submit an abstract of 500-750 words prepared for blind-review to, by January 10th. Decisions of acceptance/rejections will be communicated by February 5th.

Presentations are expected to be of 20-25min length, with an additional 10-15min discussion afterwards.

More information can be found on If you have any other questions, please direct them at or


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