Researching robotics with stories – the narrative approach in ZEN-MRI

Stories can amuse us, frighten us and make us laugh. In addition to their entertaining function, stories also have an existential meaning for humans: they lay the foundation for our identity by telling us about our experiences and telling others about our feelings and desires. The zen-mri sub-project at the Institute for Digital Ethics (IDE) is therefore working with different narrative approaches to explore which values are important to humans in human-robot interaction. From a practical research point of view, there are good reasons to work with stories: These generally show meanings and fears as well as structures of meaning more clearly than descriptions or explanations can provide. They provide an answer to the question of how people want to live.

So what ideas do people have about living together with robots? What are their worries and hopes and what values do they see as endangered?

In order to research this, the IDE is working with so-called future workshops, among other things. In the process, test subjects develop and tell fictitious but realistic future stories of living together with robots. The diverse stories deal with how the organization of the entire household is independently taken over by AI-based systems and robots. Other stories are about robots operating close to humans, and increasingly taking on human functions, such as those of friends or (spouse) partners, in care and social interaction.

An overview of the first results can be found here.


The results indicate a generally high willingness to accept robotics in public and private spaces. In addition, the results indicate a tendency towards a high level of trust in the constructed security and legal conformity of new solutions of the respondents. The benefit for the storyteller lies primarily in an increase in comfort as well as in the release of time, which they can then use productively in their free time. However, they also have the feeling that they often cannot exert any influence on the change in social space. Many stories also address the fear that the increasing integration of robotics in public spaces could lead to a devaluation of social relationships and further strengthen the individualization trend. The question of how future robotics solutions can bring about an optimization of social spaces and coexistence in addition to safety and transparency could therefore be relevant for the future of robotics development. As can be read in the article, there is a need for ethical reflection on what makes man special and unique as a cultural and social being. The skills developed at the IDE for digital value competence can contribute to the realization of a good life in the digital age.