ORDER/SUBSCRIBE          SPONSORS          CONTACT          WHAT'S NEW          INDEX/SEARCH          HOME

Telerobotics and Telepistemology Bibliography

Compiled by Ken Goldberg. E-mail: goldberg@ieor.berkeley.edu

The following text is an excerpt from The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemolog in the Age of the Internet, a Leonardo book edited by Ken Goldberg.

What is the essential relationship between distance and knowledge? How do new technologies affect this relationship? Galileo's telescope established new categories of knowledge through its capacity to bridge distance. This technology, adamantly rejected by the Catholic Church, illuminated epistemological questions that set the stage for Descartes' dubitus ergo sum. Since the mid 1990's, the Internet has greatly increased access to communications, computing, and robotics. These are the ingredients for telerobotics, which offers data that (1) claims to correspond to a live remote physical reality and (2) allows remote users to perform actions and gauge the results As the telescope did in the 17th Century, telerobotics on the Internet raises a fascinating range of new questions.

From surveillance cameras in public restrooms to a living garden tended via a robot by a global community, dozens of telerobotic systems have recently emerged on the WWW. The World Wide Web has made telerobotics available to anyone with a desktop computer and modem. In contrast to Virtual Reality, which is primarily simulacral, telerobotics is distal: it offers the ability to interact with a remote 'real' environment. (Manovich (1997) has suggested the term "teleaction'' to capture the ability to act remotely.) However, as the quotes around 'real' suggest, telerobotics raises philosophical questions concerning the very idea of the real and about our access to it - questions concerning authenticity, evidence, deception, and agency.

Viewing technologies continue to evolve, from the camera obscura to the telescope to the atomic force microscope; each new technology raises questions about what is real versus what is an artifact of the viewing process (Jay 1993). How does technology alter our perceptions of distance and scale and our understanding of truth? From a phenomenological perspective, telerobotics alters the very structure within which knowledge and perception operate. In Husserlian terms, telerobotics introduces discontinuities that can undermine the 'inner' and 'outer' horizons of experience. Indeed, while traditional epistemology, so often preoccupied with problems of justification and evidence, has seldom paid much attention to the way in which knowledge is affected by the experience of distance, the phenomenon of telerobotics brings the relation between knowledge and distance to the fore. Goldberg coined the term "telepistemology'' (1996) to refer to the study of this relation and the general question of the influence of distance on belief, knowledge, and experience.

Telerobotics raises epistemological, aesthetic, and ontological issues in striking new forms. Long-standing philosophical debates concerning the nature of knowledge and truth and the relation between belief and evidence take on a new form when raised in the context of these new technologies. What are the limits to these new technologies and how do they depend on existing human perceptual, cognitive and active capacities? How much can a human being change, even when equipped with an armory of telerobotic, remote sensing and computing apparatus - how much can the concept of being human change? We may well be shaped by new technologies, but to what extent and in what ways is our experience shaped by our existing predispositions, limitations, habits and preferences?

Accelerated by the dramatic success of the Mars Sojourner mission, telerobotics is now a familiar topic in the popular media. Many WWW telerobotics systems have been developed over the past 3 years, most recently in a July 1997 NPR interview with one of the editors. In the summer of 1997, telerobotics and telepistemology were topics for panels and presentations at the Wales Conference on New Media (CAiiA, July 97), Siggraph (Aug 97), and the International Symposium on Electronic Art (Sept 97). Surprisingly, there is no single text that addresses the topic of network telerobotics and the questions it raises in a rigorous and critical fashion.

The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology on the Net will document the projects that have pioneered this technology and provoke thought with critical essays on its philosophical and cultural implications. The title references the Telegarden, an ongoing WWW telerobotics site where remote users direct a robot to plant and water seeds in a real garden.

The intent of our book, like Benedikt's Cyberspace (1991), is to define a new topic for critical discourse and establish an enduring reference that will be used across a wide range of disciplines and by a broad readership that will include both the general public as well as academic readers. The volume will cover material in a variety of areas from history, art, and socio-cultural inquiry through to the philosophy of science, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

The essays will be grouped into four general categories: Documentary, Artistic, Epistemological, and Ontological/Phenomenological.


J. Baudrillard. 1995. The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. trans. Paul Patton. Sydney, Power Publications.

M. Benedikt, ed. 1991. Cyberspace: First Steps. MIT Press.

W. Benjamin, One Way Street (1928), in Reflections, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

W. Benjamin (1936). 1969. Illuminations. trans. Harry Zohn. New York, Schocken Books.

J. Campbell. 1994. Past, Space and Self. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press.

G. Debord. 1969. The Society of the Spectacle. Zone Books.

R. Descartes, 1641. Meditations on First Philosophy.

H. Foster. 1996. The Return of the Real. MIT Press.

K. Goldberg. 1998. "Virtual Reality in the Age of Telepresence." Convergence. Forthcoming

V. Goldberg, "Review of Jeff Wall Photography," New York Times, March 16, 1997.

I. Hacking. 1983. Representing and Intervening. Cambridge Press.

D. Haraway. 1985. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," Socialist Review 80.

M. Heidegger. 1992. "The Question Concerning Technology," in Basic Writings. Ed. D. F. Krell. New York, HarperCollins.

J. Herbert. 1997. "The Robotic Billfold: Counterfeits and Telepistemology." Mondo 2000. 16, pp 126-128.

M. Jay. 1993. Downcast Eyes: the Denigration of Vision in 20th Century French Thought. University of California Press.

E. Kac. 1997. "Aspects of the Aesthetics of Telecommunications." SIGGRAPH Visual Proceedings, John Grimes and Gray Lorig, eds. (New York: ACM, 1992) pp. 47-57.

E. Kac, "Ornitorrinco and Rara Avis: Networked Telepresence Art" (with a technical Appendix by Ed Bennett), in the Fourth Annual New York Digital Salon special issue of Leonardo Vol. 29, No. 5, pp. 389-400.

P. Lunenfeld. 1997 "In Search of the Telephone Opera." Afterimage.

M. McLuhan. 1964 (rep. 1994) Understanding Media. MIT Press.

L. Manovich. 1996. "The Labor of Perception." In: L. Hershman ed. Clicking In. Bay Press. 183-193.

L. Manovich. 1997. "To Lie and to Act: Potemkin's Villages, Cinema, and Telepresence." ISEA 97.

M. Merleau-Ponty. 1948. Sense and Non-Sense. trans by Dreyfus and Dreyfus. Northwestern University Press.

M. Minsky. 1980. "Telepresence." Omni 2(9), p 48.

F. Nietzsche. 1887. The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals. Doubleday, 1956.

E. Panofsky. 1939. Studies in Iconography. Oxford University.

B. Russell. 1948. Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. London, George Allen and Unwin.

T. Sheridan. 1992a. Telerobotics, Automation, and Human Supervisory Control. MIT Press.

T. Sheridan. 1992b. "Musings on Telepresence and Virtual Presence." in Presence Journal, 1:1, MIT Press.

J. Steuer. 1995. "Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence." In F. Biocca & M. R. Levy (Eds.), Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality (pp. 33-56). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

G. Stoker. 1997. Introductory essay to "Fleshfactor," Ars Electronica.

P. Valery. 1964. Aesthetics. Trans. Ralph Manheim. Vol. 13. New York, Bollingen.

Received 17 February 1998

Updated 2 November 2005

Leonardo On-Line © 2005 ISAST
send comments to isast@leonardo.info