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Back to the future with Dr Trudy

Today it’s accepted that robots are likely to become increasingly more common in our lives, not just in industry but domestically – even as people’s companions. Ideas that seemed inconceivable when Dr Trudy Barber spoke about them in the early 90s. Kate Thompson finds out more.

Back in 1991 when Dr Trudy Barber completed her PhD, she admits people thought she was ever so slightly bonkers.

The Southsea based artist and musician explained her studies revolved around how people were using technology for their intimate pleasure – forming a physical relationship with a robot.

Fast forward 26 years and all the talk now is of how robots will soon be doing almost every type of work you can think of – journalism to retail – and Trudy is in great demand to speak at conferences on an international stage.

The self-styled Futurologist has spoken at a future media day in Zurich this year and took part in a think-tank in Italy delving into the Robot and Technology Manifesto as well as cyber culture salons in London and a podcast for the Guardian.

“It’s so nice to be asked to speak at these events. The stuff I was talking about almost 30 years ago is happening now and people are finally understanding what I was saying.

“There’s a whole new generation who are identifying with what I wrote all those years ago,” she said.

Far from being concerned about the role robots will increasingly take in our lives, Trudy believes it will create opportunities for people to find a more enriching life.

“The very way that people identify with the idea of a job, is going to dramatically change. There is going to be a rebirth of personal talents and we will have more time to develop ourselves,” she said.

An accomplished artist, who teaches at Portsmouth University and took part in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition in 2013, she came to live in Southsea in 2006 and admits she absolutely loves living in the island city.

“I’m still discovering new places and there are so many fascinating people living here. There is a real creative scene,” she said.

While she is an advocate of new technology, Trudy admits she does have concerns for the younger generation.

“Mobile media is with us everywhere and for young people it is completely embedded in their lives – they cannot exist without it.

“So much so there has been a bit of a backlash and now you find people are having tech detox weekends. People are being asked to think outside of the digital realm and rediscover what it is to be human,” she said.

Dr Trudy Barber is Course leader of Media and Digital Practice at Portsmouth University. Her specialist subjects include emergent media, cyber/digital culture, cybersexualities, visual culture and art practice.

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