Casey Lynch: Social impacts of robots in public and private spaces
Tracing the proliferation and social impacts of robots in public and private spaces
Casey Lynch, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography. He teaches upper-division courses in Urban Geography (GEOG 452), Economic Geography (GEOG 300), and Geographic Thought (GEOG 418). He received his Ph.D. in geography with a minor in gender and women's studies from the University of Arizona and joined the faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2019. His research examines the intersecting processes of technological development and urban change with a focus on questions of ethics, politics, and social impacts. He has conducted research on tech-driven urban development projects in Honduras and Barcelona, Spain. As a first-generation college graduate, he is passionate about mentoring undergraduate students, helping them discover their academic interests and achieve their goals.
Over the past several years, a global industry for social robotics has begun to emerge. In contrast to the industrial robots that long ago began infiltrating spaces of production, social robots are designed to operate alongside humans in their everyday lives-in homes, schools, hospitals, commercial areas, and city streets. These robots serve a range of purposes, taking on roles in care work, customer service, security/policing, and leisure and entertainment. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, social robots have increasingly been seen as important tools to encourage social distancing while re-working social practices and spaces. Social robots have the potential to create new forms of communication, interaction, and organization in everyday life, while also raising important questions about ethics, privacy, and the evolving role of technology in society. This research project aims to trace the proliferation of social robots into new spaces of everyday life and to critically consider their current and potential social impacts. The project will employ both qualitative and quantitative social science methods. This may include textual analysis of news reports, company websites, promotional materials, and scientific literature, as well as interviews with urban planners, engineers, health officials, or company representatives. There is also a possibility for in-person experimentation with social robots on the UNR campus, such as in campus museums. While the project will focus on social science research methods, students from any background with an interest in interdisciplinary research are welcome.