This article analyzes the development and reception processes for the pet-type robots known as AIBO in order to explore the multiple ways in which technoscientific practices make realities of the world. I investigate how practices of comparison work in the emergence of a new technological artifact. Specifically, this article focuses on a singular form of comparison, plastic comparison: comparison both shaping things and shaped by things. AIBO had been designed and understood by comparing the device with various existing entities: a technologically sophisticated machine, a pet animal, a computer game, and a family member. I analyze the way these comparisons gave this robot multiple shapes when it was developed in the laboratory, made it famous through media attention, and then created acceptance by its owners. I show that focusing on plastic comparisons is a useful way of exploring the multiplicity of technological practices that overcomes the limits of existing approaches in STS, such as the social construction of technology and actor-network theory.
Plastic Comparison: The Case of Engineering and Living with Pet-Type Robots in Japan
Akinori Kubo is a fellow researcher of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). His research focuses on the cultural and technoscientific dynamics of robots in Japan, exploring theoretical collaboration between cultural anthropology and STS. His most recent publication in English is “Technology as Mediation: On the Process of Engineering and Living with the ‘AIBO’ Robot” (2010).