Things as citizens


Things as Citizens is a research project developed at TU Delft, together with Nazli Cila, Iskander Smith and Elisa Giaccardi, in collaboration with Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS). The project, was aimed at developing novel methods and tools for understanding and demonstrating how intelligent things, such as service robots for goods delivery or surveillance, can act in cooperation or enter in conflicting relationships with people. This focus on the merging social entanglements of people with robots and other intelligent autonomous things was particularly explored through the provocative concept of citizenship.

Both in academia and in the news, in fact, we observed a growing debate about the attribution of typically human statuses, such as citizenship, rights, and personhood to robots. See for instance the European Parliament Resolution of Civil Law Rules of Robotics, or the attribution of citizenship to the robot Sophia in Saudi Arabia. We joined such debate with the intent of exploring how discussing robots as citizens may affect the way we understand, approach and design them. In particular, we explored the topic through two different approaches.


In this picture: workshop’s toolkit and pictures from five workshops held in 2018, four across the Netherlands and one in Norway.

On the one hand, we focused on the development of a workshop format for envisioning and questioning near future service robotics solutions, aimed at engaging various stakeholders and facilitating the participation of non-experts. In the picture above are illustrated the key components of the workshop toolkit, which correspond also to the four steps of the activity.

Approach On the other hand, we explored the concept of citizenship on a theoretical level and developed a framework for rethinking the way we can approach urban robot design. The key result of this exploration is a reframing of the values to address when designing urban robots. Approaching robots as citizens, in fact, ask for consideration of community and social values, rather than the sole logic of efficiency and technological advancement. In this perspective, the main challenge is to build human-robot interdependencies and let people perceive the intended social value of the robots. The schema above summarizes the steps and components that we deem as key for achieving that.

Read more about the project in these publications:

Robot citizenship: a design perspective

Envisioning and questioning near future urban robotics