, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 599–612 | Cite as

How to study public imagination of autonomous systems: the case of the Helsinki automated metro

  • Mikael WahlströmEmail author
Open Forum


Means of transportation are changing through advances in automation. One issue to be considered in this development is public opinion regarding these systems, yet existing studies of automated transportation do not provide theoretical or methodological means for exploring public imagination, even though this would be relevant in exploring public acceptance of future technologies. Applied for studying public views on a future automated metro system, a method was devised that includes quantitative and qualitative analysis of media and questionnaire data (n = 913). Although supportive arguments dominated media discussion, people’s attitudes were negative. The two most prominent models of media influence, repetition and cultural resonance, could not fully explain the results; therefore, public imagination, which reflected daily experiences and science fiction, was explored with reference to social representations literature. It is suggested in general that public imagination, along with media discourses and societal settings that contribute to explanations, should be considered in the design and study of automated systems. It is also discussed that the social representations approach could be beneficial for media frame studies by providing explications as to why certain frames might have or lack cultural resonance.


Media influence Social representations Framing Mixed methods Automation Public transport 



This work was supported by AMOVEO, a project funded by the Academy of Finland, and by Sovako, the Finnish Doctoral Program of Social Sciences. The author would like to thank all who have commented this work, Professor Anna-Maija Pirttilä-Backman in particular.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIITAalto UniversityEspooFinland
  2. 2.Department of Social ResearchUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.VTT Technical Research Centre of FinlandEspooFinland

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