What Makes AI ‘Intelligent’ and ‘Caring’? Exploring Affect and Relationality Across Three Sites of Intelligence and Care

Giulia De Togni* (Corresponding Author), Sonja Erikainen, Sarah Chan, Sarah Cunningham-Burley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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This paper scrutinises how AI and robotic technologies are transforming the relationships between people and machines in new affective, embodied and relational ways. Through investigating what it means to exist as human ‘in relation’ to AI across health and care contexts, we aim to make three main contributions. (1) We start by highlighting the complexities of philosophical issues surrounding the concepts of “artificial intelligence” and “ethical machines.” (2) We outline some potential challenges and opportunities that the creation of such technologies may bring in the health and care settings. We focus on AI applications that interface with health and care via examples where AI is explicitly designed as an ‘augmenting’ technology that can overcome human bodily and cognitive as well as socio-economic constraints. We focus on three dimensions of ‘intelligence’ - physical, interpretive, and emotional - using the examples of robotic surgery, digital pathology, and robot caregivers, respectively. Through investigating these areas, we interrogate the social context and implications of human-technology interaction in the interrelational sphere of care practice. (3) We argue, in conclusion, that there is a need for an interdisciplinary mode of theorising ‘intelligence’ as relational and affective in ways that can accommodate the fragmentation of both conceptual and material boundaries between human and AI, and human and machine. Our aim in investigating these sociological, philosophical and ethical questions is primarily to explore the relationship between affect, relationality and ‘intelligence,’ the intersection and integration of ‘human’ and ‘artificial’ intelligence, through an examination of how AI is used across different dimensions of intelligence. This allows us to scrutinise how ‘intelligence’ is ultimately conveyed, understood and (technologically or algorithmically) configured in practice through emerging relationships that go beyond the conceptual divisions between humans and machines, and humans vis-à-vis artificial intelligence-based technologies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113874
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date23 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was funded in whole by the Wellcome Trust [Seed Award ‘AI and Health’ 213643/Z/18/Z]. For the purpose of Open Access, the authors have applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission. The authors would like to thank Dr Jane Hopton for inspiring discussions about AI and dimensions of intelligence, and three anonymous reviewers as well as the editor in chief Dr Timmemans at Social Science and Medicine for their very helpful and constructive feedback.


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Robotics
  • Health and social care
  • Policy


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