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Wednesday, October 10 • 9:00am - 12:30pm
The Medium as Message and Messenger

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*Overview and Rationale*

As AoIR was taking shape nearly two decades ago, many of the emerging areas of research clustered around people’s interactions with one another online: how people communicated through the computer; how people formed communities in cyberspace; how people saw themselves through their virtual representations. Many of these core questions regarding new technologies have not changed even as technology has: We still want to know about people’s interactions with one another, the communities they form, and the self they perform. A key part in this research then and now has been the materiality of technology: its affordances, its biases, its (infra)structures, but also its status as human constructed and constantly evolving.

However, within the past few years a significant shift has been taking place within AoIR and across the many fields represented here. Scholars are no longer only interested in how people communicate through technology; they are increasingly taking up questions of how people interact with technology, specifically devices and applications designed to be social and intelligent: algorithms, artificial intelligence, socialbots, robots, and other related technologies. When McLuhan (1994) famously stated that the “medium is the message,” he was making a statement as to the importance of the materiality of the medium. But the medium that McLuhan envisioned was one that carried messages between and among people.

What does it mean for scholars of technology that the medium is now the message and messenger? How do we unfold layers of ontologies in the technologies and how do we account for them? How do we shift our focus from studying interactions through technology to with technology? How do we study the individual, social, and cultural implications of emerging technologies that are made to look and act more-and-more human? What theories do we draw upon to inform our research when so much of our scholarship, even that focused directly on the medium, evolved in a world where humans exclusively communicated? What methodologies are suitable to empirically investigate this shift? What does the future of AoIR look like as research in these areas increase? These are just some of the questions driving this half-day preconference in human-machine communication, or HMC. HMC is an area of communication research focused on people’s direct interactions with technology and the implications thereof. Within HMC the technology is theorized as more than a medium: it is a distinct entity either by design or in the mind of those interacting with it. Scholars of other closely related disciplinary, theoretical, or methodological backgrounds also share an interest in answering these questions.


1. To bring together scholars in this area to discuss shared issues.

2. To raise the salience of the growing importance of this research at AoIR.

3. To provide connections for students and scholars new to this area.


We anticipate the audience will be scholars studying technologies that are designed to interact with people and/or have a degree of agency, including algorithms, chatbots, robots, socialbots, automated news-writing programs, and artificial intelligence. The preconference is intended to enable an interdisciplinary conversation among Internet scholars, across the social sciences, humanities, and technical disciplines. Thus, all disciplines and backgrounds are welcome.


We will have three sessions that serve as a way of orienting people to the event, providing space for people to connect with one another, and creating a dialogue about the future of this work at AoIR.

*Session 1: Chair lightning talks.* Each of the preconference chairs has been active in HMC and related areas of research and is an expert in a particular area. Each chair will give a 2-minute overview of the questions driving their research and how they are attempting to answer them and end their talk with a related provocation.

*Session 2: Birds-of-a-feather breakout:* Participants will be divided into groups based on their area of focus (e.g., algorithms, chatbots, next generation internet infrastructures, social robots, automated journalism, AI as well as related issues, such as ethics or privacy) so that they can discuss shared aspects of their research. Each small group will have a conference chair as a facilitator and will be encouraged to take up the provocations from the lightning talks.

*Session 3: Community Discussion:* During the last session, the entire group will come together to discuss the overarching questions that served as the foundation for this workshop along with any emerging questions or issues that may come up during the breakout sessions.

*Sponsors:* We have secured sponsorships for food and to cover the cost AoIR charges for attendees. Sponsors include EU Next Generation Internet (www.ngi.eu); the Communication and Social Robotics Labs, (www.combotlab.org); Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon.

avatar for Steve Jones

Steve Jones

Professor, University of Illinois Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago - Communication & Computer Science

Wednesday October 10, 2018 9:00am - 12:30pm EDT
Sheraton - Drummond East