Lucy Suchman

Talk: Robot Futures: Reflections on Technocultures of Humanlike Machines

Taking inspiration from critical studies in the history, culture and politics of technology, this paper considers some contemporary developments in the project of creating humanlike machines.  My main focus is on humanoid robots, examining how their capacities are figured in relevant technocultural imaginaries and material practices, and the domains in which they are projected into the lives – and deaths – of humans.  I look for resources that can help us to think critically about the unquestionned assumptions that these stories repeat, at the same time that they purport to be telling us about things that are unprecedented and, most disturbingly, inevitable. A central goal of this exercise is to identify the contingencies that make the futures reported highly uncertain ones, and to contribute to ways of imagining and making our futures differently.

LUCY SUCHMAN holds a Chair in the Anthropology of Science and Technology, in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University and is President of the Society for Social Studies of Science. She has engaged for over 30 years in research at the interface of humans and machines. Her current research extends her longstanding engagement with the fields of human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence and robotics to the domain of contemporary war fighting, including problems of ‘situational awareness’ in military training and simulation, and in remotely-controlled weapon systems. In 2002 she received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Sciences, in 2010 the ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Research Award, and in 2014 the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) Bernal Prize for Contributions to the Field. She is the author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions.

WEB (link BLOG (link)


Lucy Suchman Interview. Continent 5.2. 2016 (link)

Artificial Intelligence with Charlie Rose. Bloomberg News. Jul. 06, 2016. (link)

CCW talks on autonomous weapons systems. Convention on Conventional Weapons Meeting of Experts. Geneva. April 2016 (link)

Trauma: The Language of the Technosphere.  HKW 100 Years of Now. Berlin. Oct 2015. (link)


Suchman, Lucy and Jutta Weber. “Human-Machine Autonomies.” In Autonomous Weapons Systems: Law, Ethics, Policy. Edited by N. Bhuta, S. Beck, R. Geiβ, HY Liu, C. Kreβ. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U Press. Pp 75-101.

Suchman, Lucy, et al. “NIMBY? Understanding Post-Fordist Business Innovation through One of Its Key Semiotic Technologies.” Current Anthropology. 57.6 (2016).

Suchman, Lucy. “Configuring the Other: Sensing War through Immersive Simulation.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. 2.1 (2016).

Suchman, Lucy. “Technologies of Accountability: Of Lizards and Airplanes.” Technology in Working Order. (2015): Pages 113-126.

Suchman, Lucy. “Situational awareness: Deadly Bioconvergence at the Boundaries of Bodies and Machines.” MediaTropes Test Journal. 5.1 (2015): Pages 1-24.

Suchman, Lucy and Claudia Castañeda.“Robot Visions.” Social Studies of Science. 44. 3 (2013): Pages 315-341.

Sharkey N, Suchman L. Wishful mnemonics and autonomous killing machines. Proceedings of the AISB. 2013 May;136:14-22.

Suchman, Lucy. “Consuming anthropology” in Interdisciplinarity: Reconfigurations of the Social and Natural Sciences. Eds. Andrew Barry, and Georgina Bone. Routledge: Milton Park, New York, 2013.

Suchman, Lucy, and Noel Sharkey. “Wishful Mnemonics and Autonomous Killing Machines.” Proceedings of the AISB. 136. (2013): Pages 14-22.


Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (link)

This book considers how agencies are currently figured at the human-machine interface, and how they might be imaginatively and materially reconfigured. Contrary to the apparent enlivening of objects promised by the sciences of the artificial, the author proposes that the rhetorics and practices of those sciences work to obscure the performative nature of both persons and things. The question then shifts from debates over the status of human-like machines, to that of how humans and machines are enacted as similar or different in practice, and with what theoretical, practical and political consequences. Drawing on scholarship across the social sciences, humanities and computing, the author argues for research aimed at tracing the differences within specific sociomaterial arrangements without resorting to essentialist divides. This requires expanding our unit of analysis, while recognizing the inevitable cuts or boundaries through which technological systems are constituted.