Touching Machines (TBD)

Chapter in The SAGE Handbook of Human-Machine Communication. (Forthcoming, 2021).


Human-machine communication (HMC) opens new avenues for inquiries about communication, technology, and society. It recognizes that “many emerging technologies no longer readily fit into the role of medium only. They are designed to function as things with which people interact” (Guzman, 2018). Beyond interacting agent, “the machine has become a communicative subject, and it is this subjectivity, rather than interactivity, that marks this technological transition” (Guzman, 2018). Early work largely responds to the growth in social robotics, chatbots, voice-enabled devices like Siri and Alexa, and other virtual and embodied interlocutors — devices that are intentionally designed to act as communicative agents primarily using audio and visual messaging systems. This nascent area offers exciting possibilities for reimagining communication and expanding its horizons, especially by considering communication modalities beyond audio and visual centric linguistic exchanges between humans and machines. Prosthetics, wearables, and some human augmentics technologies, which use modalities of touch to interact with humans, provide avenues for considering what counts as human-machine communication beyond the audio-visual linguistic paradigm. In this chapter, I focus on examples of these technologies and their attendant forms of touch communication. I explore the ways that perceptions and practices of touch by both humans and machines are implicated in the functional and relational processes of communication. And I argue that attending to human-machine touch communication, including mundane forms that are not intentionally designed to be communicative, constitute important aspects of human-machine communication that should be core to its conceptual, theoretical, and research development – not to be treated as an appendage easily cut away.