Michael Stolp-Smith and Tom Williams


ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction

Publication Year

Research has shown that gendered robot designs prompt users to carry their gender biases into human-robot interactions. Yet avoiding gendered designs in human-robot interaction may be infeasible, as humans readily gender robots based on factors like name, voice, and pronouns. One solution to this challenge could be to use an intentionally agender robot design. Yet it is unclear whether trans, non-binary, or otherwise gender nonconforming people would view this as a positive and inclusive step, or as appropriative or otherwise problematic. In fact, little is known about trans and non-binary perspectives on human-robot interaction, which have not been previously studied. In this work, we thus present the first study of trans and non-binary perspectives on robot design, with a particular focus on perceptions of robot gender and agender robot design. Our results suggest that trans and non-binary users readily accept robots depicted as agender, and view this as a positive design strategy that could help normalize non-cisgender identities. Yet our results also highlight key risks posed by this design strategy, including risks of backlash, caricature, and dehumanization, and show how those risks are shaped by political and economic factors.