An ontic–ontological theory for ethics of designing social robots: a case of Black African women and humanoids


Given the affective psychological and cognitive dynamics prevalent during human–robot-interlocution, the vulnerability to cultural-political influences of the design aesthetics of a social humanoid robot has far-reaching ramifications. Building upon this hypothesis, I explicate the relationship between the structures of the constitution social ontology and computational semiotics, and ventures a theoretical framework which I proposes as a thesis that impels a moral responsibility on engineers of social humanoids. In distilling this thesis, the implications of the intersection between the socio-aesthetics of racialised and genderised humanoids and the phenomenology of human–robot-interaction are illuminated by the figuration of the experience of a typical black rural African woman as the user, that is, an interlocutor with an industry-standard socially-situated humanlike robot. The representation of the gravity of the psycho-existential and socio-political ramifications of such woman’s life with humanoids is abstracted and posited as grounds that illustrate the imperative for roboticists to take socio-ethical considerations seriously in their designs of humanoids.

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  1. 1.

    The use of and meaning of “culture” implied here transcends the conception of culture as an ethnic practice. It extends to the composite stage of intellectual-epistemological practices and norms of a given society and even a Civilisation.

  2. 2.

    Ted quim, it is remarkable how the makers of the famed Sophia robot avoided to adorn “her” with hair in order to obviate ethnic connotations, and only did so in a much publicised occasion of the debut of this humanoid on China’s national CTV programme in Beijing in January 2018. See

  3. 3.

    Our usage of ‘figure’ is derived from its formulation in Deleuze as Figure or figuration (2003, pp. 1–11), and as utilised in Haraway (2003, pp. 48, 49).

  4. 4.

    The specificity of the descriptor “on the African continent”, besides being deployed to maximally illustrate the element of global digital disparities, is in part inspired by Atanga (2013).

  5. 5.

    Marti et al. (2006) and Pollini (2009, p. 169) introduce the concept of “a suspension of belief” as a dynamic at play when humans cognitively encounter humanoids, an act similarly observed in a toddler playing with dolls.

  6. 6.

    For a lucid introduction to the thought of Husserl as the foundation upon which Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre developed their phenomenological methods, see Moran (2000, pp. 1–20, 60–90).

  7. 7.

    By “ontic-illusory” I seek to denote, the immediate suggestion at an initial point of cognitive encounter that an object could be something which is not what it is, but which vision my mind overrides.

  8. 8.

  9. 9.

    For more on the psycho-philosophical processes of human reaction to sex robot see, inter alia, Sullins (2012).

  10. 10.

    Instructively, in an apparent response to ethical sensibilities similar to what we alert in this paper Apple (Alphabet) upgraded its Siri to perform as either a male of female voice.

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    Jackie Snow in [Accessed 2019-06-03].

  12. 12.

    On the maleness of Reason, see Borno (1986). I further aver that this Western Cartesian mode of rationality is replicated in computer languages and artificial intelligence.

  13. 13.

    I expounded on this subsequent conclusion in a paper presented at the Research Colloquium of the University of Fort Hare, South Africa on 7th May 2019 “Black Women and Robots: A Propaedeutic Reflection on Artificial Intelligence and African Existentiality”.

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Lamola, M.J. An ontic–ontological theory for ethics of designing social robots: a case of Black African women and humanoids. Ethics Inf Technol (2020).

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  • Computational semiotics
  • Humanoids
  • Robot gender
  • Robotic ethics
  • Robot race
  • Postphenomenology