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Resonance as a Design Strategy for AI and Social Robots

James Derek Lomas1* Albert Lin2 Suzanne Dikker3,4 Deborah Forster2 Maria Luce Lupetti1 Gijs Huisman1 Julika Habekost5 Caiseal Beardow1 Pankaj Pandey6 Nashra Ahmad6 Krishna Miyapuram6 Tim Mullen7 Patrick Cooper8 Willem van der Maden1 Emily S. Cross9,10
  • 1Department of Human Centered Design, Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
  • 2Center for Human Frontiers, Qualcomm Institute, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 3Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, United States
  • 4Department of Clinical Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 5The Design Lab, California Institute of Information and Communication Technologies, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 6Centre for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, India
  • 7Intheon Labs, San Diego, CA, United States
  • 8Department of Physics, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, United States
  • 9Social Robotics, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • 10SOBA Lab, School of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Resonance, a powerful and pervasive phenomenon, appears to play a major role in human interactions. This article investigates the relationship between the physical mechanism of resonance and the human experience of resonance, and considers possibilities for enhancing the experience of resonance within human–robot interactions. We first introduce resonance as a widespread cultural and scientific metaphor. Then, we review the nature of “sympathetic resonance” as a physical mechanism. Following this introduction, the remainder of the article is organized in two parts. In part one, we review the role of resonance (including synchronization and rhythmic entrainment) in human cognition and social interactions. Then, in part two, we review resonance-related phenomena in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). These two reviews serve as ground for the introduction of a design strategy and combinatorial design space for shaping resonant interactions with robots and AI. We conclude by posing hypotheses and research questions for future empirical studies and discuss a range of ethical and aesthetic issues associated with resonance in human–robot interactions.


Resonance is a powerful physical mechanism that manifests in any physical system involving oscillations (Buchanan, 2019). Examples include the electromagnetic resonances that enable wireless communications, the acoustic resonances that give musical instruments their beauty, and the orbital resonances that shaped our solar system. No matter the medium, resonance produces amplification and synchronization effects in oscillatory systems. Details on the varying kinds of resonance are found in Box 1.

Box 1. A compilation of “resonance” terms from the scientific literature.

The following table outlines the breadth of the concept of resonance across three domains in the social and physical sciences. The examples given for each type of resonance (right column) are not meant to be an exhaustive reference list—instead, our intention is to include a few illustrative examples of each conception of resonance.