Master Thesis on the topic of Korean cafés and service robots completed

Halvard Moe Krogstad has completed their Master’s Thesis in Science & Technology Studies with the title “Efficient Robots vs. Social Beings: A sociotechnical study on Korean café-culture and novel technology in service” at NTNU, the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, for the academic spring semester 2022.

Focus for thesis

“How robots are used in South Korean cafés and why?”. In this thesis I investigate this question through a qualitative study of Korean café culture, looking at how various components play a part when change occurs in Korean cafés and the complexity of it. The thesis’ introduction presents Korea as a nation, an overview of life in Seoul, a brief history of coffee in Korea, the birth of Korea as a tech-nation, a definition of a robot, and lastly highlights this thesis’ importance and contribution to ‘untact’ and HRI-research. Methodologically, this case study draws on three primary empirical materials: (1) Fieldwork in Korea and experiencing Seoul, (2) observations of 6 cafés; 3 robot-cafés and 3 regular cafés, (3) semi-structured interviews of four Seoul-based students. The informants are presented as their own individuals in this thesis but do also represent the core café customer-group and daily life of students in Seoul. The primary empirical data is central to this thesis’ research as the process is inspired by grounded theory, an inductive methodological approach. Additionally, I utilize theoretical tools from the field of Science & Technology Studies: sociotechnical perspective, domestication, and delegation. I also borrow Breaching experiments from the Sociology field of study.

Chronologically, this thesis is structured in four analysis chapters: (1) a deep-dive into the Korean café-culture, the busy lives of students, the café as a study spot, Seoul’s density and cramped housing, and material configurations of cafés. This constitutes the local context of this thesis. (2) Presenting the sociotechnical material configurations in Seoul cafés. Analyzed by being categorized and put up against the local context, figuring out why cafés make use of novel technology. This constitutes the material context. (3) Analyzing how customers domesticate cafés using novel technologies, based on the cafés hybridity, taste of products, and the customers technical competence. (4) HRI-analysis of breaching experiments, presenting three cases of breaching in social expectations of interactions in a service setting, in addition to the concept of imagined breaching and rejection of untact technology in a service setting.

The Seoul café is adapting to the local context and students’ routines, by increasingly making use of technologies and reducing the number of human employees, resulting in some cafés becoming borderline hybrids, blurring the line between café, home, and workplace. Findings show that students, the target customer, are divided in domesticating robot-cafés, due to rejection of interacting with technology in service based on untrust and anticipatory fear of malfunction.

Relation to future of work

This thesis provides an insight into a modern shift in the Korean service sector, where cafés are observed increasingly delegating tasks formerly done by human baristas over to novel technology, automated systems, and the customer themselves. In terms of work in the future, human baristas are expected to experience a shift both in their daily work-tasks and also how they provide services. These tasks and services, observed to have already sprung up in some cafés, revolve around bridging the gap between robots / automation and the customer, e.g., assisting with making orders on machines and through applications, swooping in when technical malfunction occurs, etc. Additional jobs and tasks related to maintenance of automated services are also expected to experience a substantial increased need in the future, found today to be performed by both professional maintenance workers as well as service workers, such as baristas and fast-food workers.

Read more

You can read the full Master’s Thesis here:

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