Autism and the Machine

  • Kathleen Richardson
Part of the Social and Cultural Studies of Robots and AI book series (SOCUSRA)


In this chapter I explore the etymology of the term ‘machine’—from the ancient Greek mēkhos, meaning ‘contrivance’, which pertains to the contriving of something with skill, inventiveness or deceit. Machine as contrivance is a device or a map and not the territory. Central to imagination is analogical thinking, which allows one thing to stand in place for something else without becoming the thing it stands in for. This type of imaginative thinking is said to be deficient in autistic persons, much like an understanding of metaphor, empathy or humour. But could this type of imaginative thinking be deficient in wider society where analogies between humans and machines are dissolving in place of identification between human and machine? Drawing on the way in which autism is understood through the ‘deficit’ or ‘excess’ model, I explore how the robot’s interventions in the child’s life are imagined to bring about stability through equivalence. This principle of equivalence between children with autism and social robots is underscored by mathematical models built from commercial models of the human.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen Richardson
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of TechnologyDe Montfort UniversityLeicesterUK

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