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A Walk in the Valley of the Uncanny

Article #273 • Written by Marisa Brook

Dr. Ishiguro and his double. Not necessarily in that order. <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2006/07/21/hiroshi-ishiguro-builds-his-evil-android-twin-geminoid-hi-1/">© EnGadget.com</a>
Dr. Ishiguro and his double. Not necessarily in that order. © EnGadget.com

In June 2006 at the ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories in Keihanna, Japan, reporters and scientists gathered for the unveiling of a major new project by Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro. Once everyone had arrived, an assistant pulled back a curtain to reveal...another Dr. Ishiguro? Certainly the second figure had a very strong resemblance to Dr. Ishiguro, wearing the same glasses and dressed in the same clothing. Seated in a chair, the duplicate was rocking one foot back and forth, blinking and adjusting itself. It looked around and then, in ordinary Japanese, introduced itself; it was named Geminoid HI-1.

For the reporters, up to that point virtually the only clue that Geminoid was an android had come from knowing that Ishiguro is a prominent roboticist. Ishiguro's creation is more a puppet than an android, strictly speaking; Ishiguro speaks and acts through it via the Internet. As well as transmitting his voice, a motion-capture system allows Ishiguro to project the movements of his mouth and upper body onto Geminoid. The android itself is built of silicone and steel, and based on casts taken from Ishiguro's body. Regular, small actions such as blinking are controlled by autonomous programs.

The strikingly realistic robot has since been met largely with wonder and admiration, which could mark success for Ishiguro in more ways than the obvious. Although Ishiguro's earlier android projects were only a little less realistic, they tended to disturb viewers. This is consistent with a 1970 hypothesis by Dr. Masahiro Mori, another Japanese roboticist. Although not yet well-investigated by science, Mori's "Uncanny Valley" theory holds that as a simulation of a human being's appearance and/or motion becomes increasingly accurate, there is very suddenly a point at which humans' interest in the creation turns into utter repulsion.

Ishiguro's robot copy of newscaster Ayako Fjuii.
Ishiguro's robot copy of newscaster Ayako Fjuii.

Ishiguro was inspired to develop a mechanical double after becoming tired of his long commute from the little town of Keihanna to a teaching position at Osaka University. He sees the android double as an improvement on videoconferencing, allowing not just the speaker's image and voice to be transmitted but also his or her presence. In stark contrast with the Western fear that androids could become strong enough to overpower human beings, the Japanese forsee a future in which humans and androids work together amicably and productively.

However, the Uncanny Valley effect may prove to be an impediment to human-android interactions as androids come to resemble humans more and more closely. It's an issue that Ishiguro wants to help resolve. One of his early robots was based on casts of his four-year-old daughter. It was capable of only basic movements, and thus was not quite lifelike. Ishiguro's daughter was so terrified by it that she refused to set foot in Ishiguro's lab after seeing it. Later on, Ishiguro made a robot copy of newscaster Ayako Fujii; despite being equipped with a much more intricate system of motion, it was still described as "creepy". Ishiguro's double is even more of an improvement, and most observers have been amazed and intrigued rather than unnerved. This may indicate that he has found the level of detail necessary to cross the Valley.

So why might there be an Uncanny Valley? There are a number of theories regarding its cause, all of them tentative since the existence of the Valley itself is not yet verified. One idea is that empathy for clearly nonhuman entities is based upon the recognition of human characteristics in an irrefutably different context. The human mind recognizes the subject as an obvious nonhuman, and then is attracted to it by the presence of human qualities.

Mori's 1970 graph, with reference points. He proposed that movement amplified the effect. "Familiarity" is used to mean "emotional response", and several semi-human concepts are listed as reference points.
Mori's 1970 graph, with reference points. He proposed that movement amplified the effect. "Familiarity" is used to mean "emotional response", and several semi-human concepts are listed as reference points.

The popularity of anthropomorphism is a testament to the validity of this part of this theory. Cartoon people and animals are a prominent example; the mind instinctively labels them nonhumans, but then finds reason to identify with their portrayal as creatures who think and feel in the same way that we do. Conversely, the theory holds that a response to a nearly-human-looking entity is exactly the reverse. The human mind's first instinct is to label it 'humanlike' and only then notice the nonhuman characteristics of it. This causes the feeling of disgust and alienation. If the mind sees something as a human being, we want it to both look and act just as a human being does. This may have ties to evolutionary psychology and the maintenance of the species' gene pool.

Another possible explanation for the existence of an Uncanny Valley is that it is an extension of the natural human tendency to fear death. A 2005 study by Karl F. MacDorman explores this possibility, which ties into Mori's earlier reference point of 'corpse' as the lowest point in the Valley. After viewing images of almost-human-looking beings, participants tended to feel disturbed and to want to cling to opinions that comforted them. This is just what social psychologists believe happens during 'terror management', or the process of dealing with the reality of dying and its implications.

The whole Uncanny Valley theory, however, is still controversial. Some reject it completely, arguing that humanlike robots were not realistic enough in the 1970s for the effect to have been measured. David Hanson, a noted American roboticist and sculptor, considers the entire theory "pseudoscientific" and believes that it is futile to reduce 'realism' to a single axis on a graph. Likewise, psychologist Sara Kiesler of Carnegie Mellon University argues that there is evidence both to support the theory and to refute it.

Far from the cute, romanticized creatures envisioned in mythology, the idea of actual human-animal hybrids (also known as parahumans) is unsettling, as Patricia Piccinini's sculpture "The Young Family" shows.
Far from the cute, romanticized creatures envisioned in mythology, the idea of actual human-animal hybrids (also known as parahumans) is unsettling, as Patricia Piccinini's sculpture "The Young Family" shows.

A domain in which the concept of the Uncanny Valley - unproven or not - has become very important is CGI animation. Again, traditional two-dimensional cartoons are far enough removed from real-life human beings for the Valley not to be a problem; when animation aims at realism, though, is where it could be possible to fall into the Valley. Some believe that the box-office failure of 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within can be partially attributed to the Uncanny Valley effect. The film required an enormous amount of work since its human characters were created from scratch. For instance, protagonist Dr. Aki Ross was animated in so much detail that it took an hour and a half to create each individual frame in which she appeared. After four years and hundreds of millions of dollars, Final Fantasy opened to mixed reviews. "At first it's fun to watch the characters," wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, "[b]ut then you notice a coldness in the eyes, a mechanical quality in the movements." Despite the immense amount of effort and money put into it, the film didn't even make a tenth of its production cost in American and Canadian theaters combined. It was a sharp disappointment, and the film's production company, Square Pictures, was put into bankruptcy.

There have been two strategies employed in CGI animation more recently to avoid going the way of Final Fantasy. One is to deliberately choose an exaggerated, cartoonish look for characters in order to avoid the potential pitfalls of the Uncanny Valley by staying well to the left of it on Mori's graph. This is precisely what Pixar did for 2004's The Incredibles, whose characters are recognizably human but not much more realistic than a two-dimensional cartoon. The other strategy is to do exactly what Hiroshi Ishiguro did: to "jump the Valley" by working backwards from real human beings. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, the character of Gollum was animated based on the captured recorded motions and voice of actor Andy Serkis. Moral of the story: it is very difficult to pull off creating a realistic animated human being from scratch - and perhaps even foolish to try.

Overall it seems clear that there is something causing the anxiety epitomized by Hiroshi Ishiguro's daughter and the uneasiness experienced by many viewers of computer-animated human beings. Whether this is all based in an Uncanny Valley of aesthetics and movement or based in something else, it will likely have to be thoroughly explored and resolved if humanoid robots are ever required to become a part of human society. Masahiro Mori, although of course not at all skeptical of his own theory, agreed with the need for further study in order "to know what is human [and] to establish the design methodology for creating familiar devices through robotics research".

Article written by Marisa Brook, published on 24 May 2007. Marisa lives in Toronto, Canada. She collects postcards, fridge magnets, lapel pins, interesting rocks, and linguistics degrees.

Edited by Alan Bellows.

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84 Comments
mountainjoe69
Posted 24 May 2007 at 05:29 pm

Damn Interesting! First?


mountainjoe69
Posted 24 May 2007 at 05:30 pm

Yeah! Now to think of something smart to say....


ieatlettuce
Posted 24 May 2007 at 06:00 pm

I've always thought it funny that we (humans) want to make robots that look like us and do things like us. Surely the "design" of humans is not particularly practical - balancing on two legs is much harder than on four, not to mention all the other things that make us human, but are really unnecessary in a robot - blinking for example.

Also, I've never been to a Madame Tussauds but do they have the same problems there - where some people find the models too odd (too human perhaps?) to look at?

Finally, I remember hearing about a movie studio or production company or something that had bought the rights to use Bruce Lee's image to make a movie featuring a life-like, CGI Bruce. Heresy is my cry and I am so glad it hasn't come to fruition yet.


rev.felix
Posted 24 May 2007 at 06:00 pm

So how long until Mr. Android can hold a conversation on his own?


sh0cktopus
Posted 24 May 2007 at 06:03 pm

For some reason, this made me think of the Terminator movies, where "androids" (terminators) had become so realistic that humans were fooled, but they still hadn't crossed the uncanny valley of dog perception. And in regards to CG animation of humans, I think we're still at least a decade off of creating a convincing replica. We're getting pretty close with CG creatures, though. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's a model and what's computer-generated these days. This also made me think of those old animatronic robots they used to have at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, like Abraham Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation or Jesus Christ undergoing the Transfiguration. Or they used to have this game at the arcades where you had to quick-draw your six-shooter against an animatronic cowboy. And there were pizza places (Showbiz Pizza I think? Maybe Chuck E. Cheese's?) where they had animatronic animals that played rock 'n' roll music when the curtain was lifted every half hour or so. What ever happened to animatronics? Anyways, damn interesting as always.


Reaper
Posted 24 May 2007 at 06:43 pm

I would attribute the Uncanny Valley effect to minute differences between the human and robot behavior. This would trigger the "something ain't right" neurons in our brains, even though we may not overtly notice the incongruity (I think DI did an article talking about how the brain "makes up" a lot of our reality, in fact).

If that is the case, then we may not ever be able to dynamically model real human behavior to the satisfaction of our lower instincts...well, until we can make computers with power matching that of the human brain, that is.

shocktopus: Animatronics are thriving, actually. Just a few years ago, roboticists developed a new hydraulic technology that allowed their puppets to move more fluidly than ever. I'm pretty sure they're all over Disney World by now. In fact, I'm almost certain that the new Pirates of the Carribean ride uses 'em ;)


Nonesuch
Posted 24 May 2007 at 06:45 pm

Not sure how uncanny it is, but I guess having nonhuman main characters and tryin to convey "the spirits within" would be a reach beyond most feature films grasp, including many with human actors..... but on another robotic inspired front, wouldn't the disneyland It's a small world after all display make a great shooting gallery?


onelftshoe
Posted 24 May 2007 at 07:04 pm

Seems to me that this is just a modern version of a Jim Henson’s muppet. Until it is capable of operating independently it isn't a true android.


cutterjohn
Posted 24 May 2007 at 07:38 pm

I have heard of the Uncanny valley theory before.. It may not be scientifically proven, but it does make sense purely from anecdotal evidence..

For instance, look at the evolution of the zombie/horror movies. At the start, the zombies walked slowly and moaned a bit.. This is disconcerting, but not terribly bad. We've all walked(or at least seen people walk) like that the morning after a heavy night of drinking. :)

Contrast those early attempts with the antagonists from movies like 'The Ring', or 'The Grudge'. The zombie character has evolved from a slow, shambling movement, to an utterly alien jerkiness(which is indeed very reminiscent to a robots movements). These motions are obscenely unnatural, and when performed by an otherwise passably healthy looking human... Creepiness x 1000, and an indication that the horror movie industry at leasts partially understands and utilizes the concept of the uncanny valley.


Spike
Posted 24 May 2007 at 07:53 pm

As I followed the links after the article, I noticed a blurb that Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro was a fan of Data from the Star Trek Next Generation series. I was always fascinated by Data myself. Often his character seemed more innocent and human than some of the human characters. One of the links off of the above links takes you to a discussion on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which DI's own Floj has pointed out after another article wasn't really the monster, but mankind itself. Interesting and unsettling.

So, what the above seems to ask is do you fall in to the group that is creeped out or the group that is fascinated by human qualities in robots? While I find the robots described above interesting, I do find the idea of using an android to relay the sense of human prescence more than a little disconcerting. Is technology pushing us away from human contact and the art of reading expression and body language? Don't you get frustrated when trying to talk to a person instead of a machine? Press one if you agree, Press two if you don't , or press three if you don't know or don't care. Press the # sign to return to the main menu....Damn interesting article! Kudos to Marissa


yu-chan
Posted 24 May 2007 at 08:21 pm

Hey, very interesting. This actually explains A LOT about my 3rd grade math teacher!

Thanks!


kgy121
Posted 24 May 2007 at 08:34 pm

The only reason I didn't watch The Spirits Within was b/c I didn't know about it. Otherwise brand loyalty would have made it past the Uncanny Valley Effect easily.


StephanieGray
Posted 24 May 2007 at 11:46 pm

Thank you for a well written article, a really nice summary of some of the issues around the uncanny valley effect.

You're right that as of you it hasn't received a lot of research attention but that's something I'm working to address as my PhD topic is the UV effect - my research journal can be seen here.


stormmind
Posted 25 May 2007 at 12:30 am

I do not agree about FF vs LotR. Characters in FF were OK as far as creepiness goes, just that the story was a bit shallow and poorly executed, proving once again that having a great trademark and lots of cash backing isn't enough (hello spiderman 3). On the other hand Gollum in LotR was really creepy, methinks, but the movie had an excellent director, who really tryed to pass on the feeling of the books, and more or less succeded. When it comes to movies, it's all about the overall impression and story. Hollywood seems to have forgotten that.

Just my 0,02€


jesse2b
Posted 25 May 2007 at 12:40 am

Not to worry. The First Law of Robotics states (I believe) "No robot can harm any person" (Dr. Isaac Asimov). Then, the good doctor's many robots were never human-like. That would be creepy.


nagumi
Posted 25 May 2007 at 12:45 am

I, personally, found Gollum to be really creepy. It was part of what ruined the movies for me - that and that they were boring as hell. But yeah, Gollum looked wierd, unreal and revolting, and not because of his intentional deformities.


Plank
Posted 25 May 2007 at 12:58 am

Damn Interesting indeed!

Spike said: "I do find the idea of using an android to relay the sense of human prescence more than a little disconcerting. "

I totally agree Spike. The use of technology these days has eliminated a lot of the human interaction we used to have. Imagine if half the people you met on a daily basis were just mechanical representations of that actual person. I don't know about the rest of you but I would feel seriously paranoid when meeting people. I guess in a few years the skill of reading body language will include distinguishing between humans and androids and reading android body language as well.


Dr. Evil
Posted 25 May 2007 at 04:27 am

would sculptures in wax museums fall in this uncanny valley?


vallynmar
Posted 25 May 2007 at 05:39 am

cutterjohn said: " These motions are obscenely unnatural, and when performed by an otherwise passably healthy looking human… Creepiness x 1000, and an indication that the horror movie industry at leasts partially understands and utilizes the concept of the uncanny valley."

I have a feeling this may be why the most recent Dawn of the Dead has freaked me out so much. I watched it almost three years ago and I still am creeped out by it and have times where I wonder if I'm going to look out my sliding glass door and see a zombie.

Damn Interesting article and comments. I find I agree with most of what has been said. I do want to add that I feel a part of the Uncanny Valley is the lack of emotion. We have emotion, we relate to emotion, if we see something that should be human but doesn't have emotion it creeps us out. Even a human who hides their emotion to the point of appearing as if they don't have any creeps us out. That's my .02.

And Nonesuch here's a gun, there's It's A Small World, go for it.


thatsjustwrong
Posted 25 May 2007 at 05:58 am

I recently heard about this for the first time in my Game Informer magazine for this month. They had an article about how games are trying to cross that threshold and dig themselves out of the uncanny valley. The gaming industry has had a hard time with the concept. I mean, it's one thing to animate something to almost human but quite another to make the character almost human AND reactive enough to be used in play. Once the player can control the character, anything can happen and it's impossible to plan for that.


Dizzee
Posted 25 May 2007 at 06:39 am

What I have to wonder is, if robots acting like humans are supposed to be so creepy, then why are humans acting like robots amusing?


lip_ring
Posted 25 May 2007 at 07:56 am

thatsjustwrong said: "I recently heard about this for the first time in my Game Informer magazine for this month. They had an article about how games are trying to cross that threshold and dig themselves out of the uncanny valley. The gaming industry has had a hard time with the concept. I mean, it's one thing to animate something to almost human but quite another to make the character almost human AND reactive enough to be used in play. Once the player can control the character, anything can happen and it's impossible to plan for that."

I think that the uncanny valley has actually worked for video games before - have you ever played Silent Hill? that game is creepy as hell, mostly because the characters *used* to be human, but now are just... human-things.

I also don't think that video games are in the valley unless they want to be (see silent hill). Take FF12 - the characters in that game are very realistic, especially during the cut scenes (I'm not talking about the obvious non-humans), but they're not creepy at all.

Has anyone seen an Aphex Twin video? The guy creates the creepiest characters ever. "Johnny" is terrifying, and in another video he actually starved himself so as to appear scary. The fact that his videos portray people who aren't exactly people is what makes them so horrifying.


Radiatidon
Posted 25 May 2007 at 08:21 am

Though I walk through the valley of the uncanny, I shall fear no malevolent, bug ridden, positronic, artificial brain driven animatronics. For you are with me Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics: your on/off switch and your B-9 quick-pull power disconnect plug, they comfort me.

Of these things I know, unless the foolish remove thy restrictor control to allow a more complete holo-projector of some wanton vixen. Yay shall Robbie be tested by the ID for complete servitude before mental meltdown.

Beware oh child if Drone 1/Dewey whispeaks to Drone 2/Huey least they doth acquire all thy bidded wealth. Yay of these things we should past from generation to generation least one day shall the dawn of I Robot fill the air. For once that day befalleth, shall mankind fall slave to the Synthetics as the Megabrain controls our destiny under the evil cyclopean oscillation red eye of Andy-roid rule.


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 25 May 2007 at 08:21 am

Dizzee said: "What I have to wonder is, if robots acting like humans are supposed to be so creepy, then why are humans acting like robots amusing?"

Because a robot that is disconcertingly human-like has frightful implications. If one day in the future a robot is so hume-like that we can't tell the difference, we would always go about in fear of being tricked. You wouldn't know if your conversation is being recorded or if you are talking to a walking bomb. It's also probably our brain's wiring telling us that there is a wolf in our sheep's clothes. Those that mimic are perceived to be untrustworthy. Also, I think that any human would fear replacement almost as much as we fear death.

I doubt if there are many people who fear becoming a robot, so a human imitating one is obviously someone just being silly to most folks. Amusing as any other costume we put on. Why do we do that?

I think that the wax figures are equally creepy but not because of any serious implications. They're just creepy because they look so human and it is so un-human so stand so still. It could be a fear of being tricked as well. They are so real-looking that I would expect a wax figure to suddenly jump out at me and say BOOH! ha ha . . joke's on you


Greenvanholzer
Posted 25 May 2007 at 08:32 am

Rinson Drei
Posted 25 May 2007 at 08:50 am

As someone has said already, we can sense when someone or some thing is faking emotions. Successful sociopaths spend much of their lives practicing real emotions in order to lure victims and fool the suspicious, but there is always an "off-ness" that they can't shed.
Only when robots gain real emotions will we be able to connect without the creepy factor. When they do, will their feelings resemble ours? Why should a robot share our idea of love, unless we design it to reproduce bisexually? Otherwise, they should perhaps display affection towards the factory that assembled them.


tampagirl
Posted 25 May 2007 at 09:30 am

Rinson Drei said: Otherwise, they should perhaps display affection towards the factory that assembled them."

As the robots in futurama do for the robotic manufacturer know as "Mom".


nihil
Posted 25 May 2007 at 09:34 am

Another article on the "Uncanny Valley" in reference to videogames:

http://www.slate.com/id/2102086/
Entitled:
"The Undead Zone"
By Clive Thompson
Posted Wednesday, June 9, 2004, at 5:20 PM ET
http://www.slate.com

nihil


nihil
Posted 25 May 2007 at 09:37 am

For instance, look at the evolution of the zombie/horror movies. At the start, the zombies walked slowly and moaned a bit.. This is disconcerting, but not terribly bad. We've all walked(or at least seen people walk) like that the morning after a heavy night of drinking. :)

Another opinion on the running zombie phenomenon of late:
http://www.slate.com/id/2097751/
Dead Run
By Josh Levin
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2004, at 5:02


denki
Posted 25 May 2007 at 09:57 am

rev.felix said: "So how long until Mr. Android can hold a conversation on his own?"

The robotic newscaster (pictured above, Repliee Q2) had a bank of replies and voice recognition software so it could do that (if memory serves correctly).

Mori's graph actually does a lot to help me understand why my enemies, monkeys/apes, are so popular with everybody. The peak of the first ascending arc could be argued to be monkeys/apes, as they aren't human, but share enough human-like characteristics to make them fascinating to people (and then used everywhere for that reason). However, this doesn't really fit as "humanoid robot" is below them on the graph of human-likeness, but this graph was constructed in the 70's when humanoid-robot probably evoked thoughts of the chick from [i]Metropolis[/i] (which is probably why it isn't in the negative "familiarity" area).

I thought FF failed because it was a really crappy story.

nagumi said: "I, personally, found Gollum to be really creepy. It was part of what ruined the movies for me - that and that they were boring as hell. But yeah, Gollum looked wierd, unreal and revolting, and not because of his intentional deformities."

If you found the movies boring, then you probably also didn't watch the extended versions, with a creature that is even creepier than Gollum (even though only his mouth is visible). Search images.google.com for a pic of "mouth of sauron," that should do you just fine.


Merciless
Posted 25 May 2007 at 10:18 am

I enjoy reading all the comments posted. As for my thinking about these robot/android creatures, they will NEVER be able to truely act, feel and express emotion the way humans do because of two obvious reasons. One, no soul. Believe what you may, every human has one.... and no it can't be sold. Two, no conscience. You really need one of these to make any decision, good or bad. To know why you made/make the choice. And to foresee the consequences of the decision. I know there are probably dozens or more truely life-like reasons, but I feel these two would never be feasible by even the best minds in science and robotics. Oh yes, another Damn Interesting article.


dylanfan
Posted 25 May 2007 at 10:32 am

I think this is why the movie Eraserhead freaks me out beyond belief. That lady in the radiator, and that goddamn "baby" they have. Jesus, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I also love it that a movie, or a robot, photograph, whatever, can have that kind of effect on us. Brilliant.
I am a big fan of being scared, getting the willies, whatever. LOVE it.


dylanfan
Posted 25 May 2007 at 10:37 am

DI article, by the way, and well written.
Another thing that always freaked me out was when I was younger and I read 'Planet of the Apes." The idea that the apes are so human-like, but still not quite human, was unnerving to me. Now I understand why.


Dizzee
Posted 25 May 2007 at 10:40 am

Nicki the Heinous said: "Because a robot that is disconcertingly human-like has frightful implications. If one day in the future a robot is so hume-like that we can't tell the difference, we would always go about in fear of being tricked. You wouldn't know if your conversation is being recorded or if you are talking to a walking bomb. It's also probably our brain's wiring telling us that there is a wolf in our sheep's clothes. Those that mimic are perceived to be untrustworthy. Also, I think that any human would fear replacement almost as much as we fear death."

But then shouldn't we be afraid of the people who built and/or control the robot?

And, in reality, if we were that paranoid, there is just as much reason to fear actual humans recording our conversations or talking to walking bombs.

Even if artificial intelligence (sp?) existed, the problem is it could only be as humanoid as the human who created it, it could be more intelligent (calculators for brains) but it would not be able to show more emotion than a human, and if it showed no emotion it would not be able to commit undesirable acts unless it were programmed to do so because without emotion it would have no motivation, so even then we would need to fear the creator not the robot.


nairobired
Posted 25 May 2007 at 01:03 pm

StephanieGray said: "Thank you for a well written article, a really nice summary of some of the issues around the uncanny valley effect.

You're right that as of you it hasn't received a lot of research attention but that's something I'm working to address as my PhD topic is the UV effect - my research journal can be seen here."

thanks for the website, great stuff.

thatsjustwrong said: "I recently heard about this for the first time in my Game Informer magazine for this month. They had an article about how games are trying to cross that threshold and dig themselves out of the uncanny valley. The gaming industry has had a hard time with the concept. I mean, it's one thing to animate something to almost human but quite another to make the character almost human AND reactive enough to be used in play. Once the player can control the character, anything can happen and it's impossible to plan for that."

i think he makes a valid point here. i think one of the problems that Microsoft and especially Sony are having with selling their new systems is because they both flaunt these hyper-realistic graphics in gameplay, and although its a lot easier to deal with these characters because theyre on a screen and not in front of you, the effect of the UV is still there.
if i see a screenshot of some new-fangled game comin out on playstation 34 or whatever, i'll ooo and ahh for a bit over the graphics, but then start picking apart the human characters. their eyes look weird, they dont move right, their mouth doesnt match the words. its that idea of finding the non-human characteristics in things. they can make the background and objects and whatever else look real as hell, but getting humans right..it just takes an artists touch that polygon wranglers just cant seem to get their head around.
you could also attribute some of Nintendo's recent success with the Wii to this chasm between the two worlds of thought right now in gaming; sony and microsoft making realistic looking games for the "hardcore" gamer, and Nintendo making cartoony games for kids. people just seem to be more comfortable with something that isnt trying to be super realistic.

oh, and i know ive been saying for years that the trend of using dead actors to hawk products is just going to continue, until we actually have all new movies made with dead actors. with a little voice acting, motion captures, and old-fashioned hollywood magic, i dont think this idea is out of the question in the relatively near future.


mbaesq
Posted 25 May 2007 at 01:40 pm

Wow! Finally, one of the article topics that I suggested has been brought to life. Thank you. :-)

Re: "The horror movie industry at leasts partially understands and utilizes the concept of the uncanny valley." I'd agree on the whole, and also with your examples. Certainly they've done their best to creep us out using the human corpse or body parts that are real enough so that they fall squarely into the UV. The 'it's a real corpse' vibe is further enhanced through better and better fx, not to mention sound. (Usually when stumbling upon a dead body in a room, there's a three-second delay between the sound of buzzing flies being foleyed in and the protagonists smelling something, or vice-versa.)

Movie reviewer Roger Ebert commented on the UV effect when contrasting The Incredibles and the Polar Express. While he found the former very winsome in their stylized way, he or one of his companions thought the more realistic PE characters to look like 'burn victims'. And, to my untrained eye, there is something more cold and waxy about the characters I've seen in the trailers.

Having seen neither film, I suppose people should take the observation with a grain of salt. The Polar Express didn't bomb at the box office in the way Final Fantasy did, nor did any kids complain of nightmares afterwards. :-)


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 25 May 2007 at 02:57 pm

Dizzee said: "But then shouldn't we be afraid of the people who built and/or control the robot?


And, in reality, if we were that paranoid, there is just as much reason to fear actual humans recording our conversations or talking to walking bombs.

Even if artificial intelligence (sp?) existed, the problem is it could only be as humanoid as the human who created it, it could be more intelligent (calculators for brains) but it would not be able to show more emotion than a human, and if it showed no emotion it would not be able to commit undesirable acts unless it were programmed to do so because without emotion it would have no motivation, so even then we would need to fear the creator not the robot."

Whether or not a robot can emote doesn't seem to have much to do with our basic fear of them. Something in our primitive nature simply distrusts those that mimic, whether human or robot. The fact that it is pretending suggests that it has a motivation to do so, whether true or not. Aside from which, A being doesn't need emotion to create motivation to do an act. Environmental stimulation could do that. Notice the reaction of the Gemonoid when poked? It wasn't because some guy in a room far away with a keyboard told it to. Yes, we should probably question the motivations of the creator rather than the robot, but it is instinct to fear what is right in front of you.


Coherent
Posted 25 May 2007 at 03:42 pm

Most examples of uncanny valley result from laziness on the part of the people constructing the android. Do you want realism? Just build a complete representation of a human skeleton and put all the muscles and tendons in place over it with appropriate relaxed tension and volume for each. There!

Can't do that? Well, you only got about as close to your subject as a crayon drawing comes to an oil masterpiece. You can be sure that people expecting an oil masterpiece will be pretty revulsed too by your crayon attempt. It's apples and oranges. If you're trying to present it as human, people are going to look at it and say "Duh Sherlock, it's obviously not." Think of the uncanny valley as more of an art critique than a psychological chasm.


jerry maxwell
Posted 25 May 2007 at 09:54 pm

well i must say. this article confused me. i guess i'm just the older generation but i remember i always thought robots (especially internet controlled ones) were really cool. like what if war were that way way where the only war was between our robots that we built and created? there'd be no loss of human life in our eternal conflict and we could all have religious crusades in our own virtual and expensive world? ah hell...it's a great time to be alive! j.


HiEv
Posted 26 May 2007 at 12:13 am

Rinson Drei said: "As someone has said already, we can sense when someone or some thing is faking emotions."

Not really. If that were true then most TV shows and movies wouldn't work. A believable performance often requires faking emotions, and some people are quite good at that.

Rinson Drei said: "Only when robots gain real emotions will we be able to connect without the creepy factor."

Not necessarily. They only need to be physically and esthetically capable of accurately representing human motions and appearance, and then mentally smart enough to recognize when they are causing a negative reaction, what they did that caused it, and be able to figure out how to avoid repeating that problem. Since the androids will be able to be reprogrammed and/or trained to avoid such problems, eventually they will learn how to minimize or avoid such problems. The early models won't be great, but, as with all complex technology, it will improve over time. Clearly this is a hard problem, but "hard" is not the same as "impossible."

Merciless said: "I enjoy reading all the comments posted. As for my thinking about these robot/android creatures, they will NEVER be able to truely act, feel and express emotion the way humans do because of two obvious reasons. One, no soul. Believe what you may, every human has one…. and no it can't be sold."

There is no evidence of a "soul" that could not be better explained by far more plausible naturalistic means. And if a soul is supposedly the storehouse of our personality and memories, then why does damage to the brain affect those things? How do you know that everyone has a soul? Have you checked? And even if we assume that souls exist, why couldn't a very elaborate computer program emulate whatever it is that a soul supposedly does?

If you want to believe in a soul, that's fine, but if I said that a computer couldn't act human because it doesn't have "floozl," when I couldn't explain exactly what "floozl" was, or even show that it exists, you'd look at me like I was nuts. So why is a "soul" any different from "floozl"? If you don't even know what a soul is, how can you say with such certainty what computers may one day be capable of simulating? It reminds me of the people who said things like, "If man had been intended to fly, God would have given him wings." Fortunately, some men do not give up just because others blindly insist "it can't be done."

Merciless said: "Two, no conscience. You really need one of these to make any decision, good or bad. To know why you made/make the choice. And to foresee the consequences of the decision. I know there are probably dozens or more truely life-like reasons, but I feel these two would never be feasible by even the best minds in science and robotics."

Are you saying that a computer isn't capable of assigning values to various things, projecting various outcomes, and selecting the best option? Actually, that's something that computers do all the time. I think you've seen too many sci-fi shows where the computer suggests some less risky option than the one the humans want, the humans go ahead anyways, and, through the power of cliched writing, the humans are always right and the computer is always wrong. That's fiction, there's no reason why reality has to be the same as that.

All a "conscience" is is an ability to make ethical decisions, and something that gives you negative reinforcement when you've made the wrong ones or positive reinforcement when you've made the right ones. Is the human "conscience" perfect? By no means, so I don't think we should expect machines to make flawless ethical decisions 100% of the time either. But who knows, it may end up that eventually computers become even more ethical than humans. :-)


Wisanggeni
Posted 26 May 2007 at 01:19 am

The creepiest crap about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, it's it moronic storyline and it's super-mega-boring-non-fantasy action thing. PERIOD.

...Marisa, if you have some time questioning and making story out of this movie vs android things, then you should have the time to watch the (not so) new Final Fantasy VII - Advent Children - The Movie.
It's another 3D C.G.I movie from the same company. And this time, it's coming out with a lots of full-throttling-super-mega-blaster-fictional-super human-actions.

...I don't want to be mean. ...or flame you. But it seems, the conclusions you make for the story, heavily drawn from the middle part of the writing. Where Final Fantasy's sucks, and The Incredibles rules; because...bla...bla...bla... It's so... irritating. ...and shallow.

The story's idea is so (damn) interesting. Sadly, it's badly executed.

...and that goes with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within too.


Furnace
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:44 am

I’ve only been skimming the comments at this point, so some of this may have been stated already.

The Uncanny Valley will disappear in a single generation after human-like robots become prevalent in society. The children that grow up with them will not find anything uncanny or creepy because they will be well adjusted to the differences between real humans and robots. However, they will be masters at identifying what’s real and what’s not for this reason.

Robots that simulate humans will not be used in everyday life like people seem to be expecting. The “robot maid” will never happen because as someone had pointed out earlier, there are a lot of human details that are completely unnecessary/ill-suited for a robot. Robots that defuse bombs don’t look human, nor should they. The human simulations will thrive in movies, “customer service” where face-to-face interaction is needed/desired (like bartenders), the sex toy industry, and a few others. Basically, watch Star Wars and you’ll see where we’re headed for the most-part. Robots will be built to suit their function and that’s it. Anything beyond that would be poor design.

There will be ethical debates that will undoubtedly slow the progress of robots entering society, but eventually end with a new branch of laws that govern how robots should be created and who is punished if something goes wrong. If a robot bartender serves a drink to a child, should the designer be punished for not adding that restriction to the design, or would the bar owner be punished for allowing it to happen? (If you park a car on a steep hill and leave the parking brake off, and it rolls into a person, the car owner is responsible, not the car maker.) Is a sex robot built to look like a ten year old girl going to be illegal? Why should it be?… no child is being harmed. THIS is what we have to look forward to.


Misfit
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:48 am

As an artist, I very much so believe that the uncanny valley exists. It has not been actually put in such straightforward terms by our teachers, but (I believe, anyway) that the general consensus among people is that if you make a cast of a real person's body, do not color in the resulting sculpture in an attempt to make it look real. Unless you do it impeccably, IT'S CREEPY! Statues are not colored in with skin-toned colors, they're not creepy.

On Valentine's Day, me and a bunch of friends went to a pizza place to eat dinner. There were a lot of us, so we were taken to a very nice (and large) backroom area with huge tables that spun. In the center of our table was a bust of one of the Popes (I don't think it was the new one). This bust was colored in with an effort to be realistic, and IT WAS CREEPY! The general opinion among my friends was that he was looking right at them, and therefore the table must be rotated to aim the Pope at someone else, anyone else.


Rinson Drei
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:51 am

HiEv,

Your denials of a soul and conscience are beginning to creep me out. :^)


Misfit
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:55 am

HiEv said: "Not really. If that were true then most TV shows and movies wouldn't work. A believable performance often requires faking emotions, and some people are quite good at that."

This is one of the things that bugs me about people that assume things about acting and believe that it is fakery. Acting is basically living a lie, they all say.

Not true.

Acting (at least true acting) is one of the farthest things from fakery you can get. True actors use the emotions that they've really felt to conjure up for the purposes of their roles. Yeah the names and stories behind the characters may not exist, but those are surface qualities. The emotions are real. Actors spend a lot of time preparing for a particular scene in order to actually feel what the characters feel, because otherwise, it's just not real.


Misfit
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:56 am

(Continuing from my previous comment)

You can't fake an emotion you've never felt. If you try to do so, it just won't be convincing.


Rinson Drei
Posted 26 May 2007 at 09:07 am

Misfit said: "This is one of the things that bugs me about people that assume things about acting and believe that it is fakery. Acting is basically living a lie, they all say.

Not true.

Acting (at least true acting) is one of the farthest things from fakery you can get. True actors use the emotions that they've really felt to conjure up for the purposes of their roles. Yeah the names and stories behind the characters may not exist, but those are surface qualities. The emotions are real. Actors spend a lot of time preparing for a particular scene in order to actually feel what the characters feel, because otherwise, it's just not real."

I agree. Also, there is a thing called "willing suspension of disbelief." I'm old enough to remember those great "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV" ads. It's kind of like motion-sickness. The dissonance between the expected and the experienced is what sets off the warning signals.

What HiEv is describing is what sociopaths do: practice emotions in order to fool their victims. They can eventually build a great imitation of them, often in all external detail more "real" and passionate than those with consciences. But people who encounter them invariably sense something off about them. They succeed by exploiting our civility and politeness. Kind of like telemarketers and politicians.

One can't fake or credibly imitate a soul or a conscience, though, because they are who we are, not what we do. If you are faking it, you are by definition lying. Your real self/intentions are hidden by a facade. Eventually, the truth will out. If an android has no real self, then there is nothing except programming guiding its actions. Emotions reveal intentions, desires, loves, hates. Without these, everything else is a hollow shell, and that is what causes us horror.

The professor's simulacrum is less creepy because his own soul is the ultimate source of its actions. Like someone said, it is a puppet, not an android. In a sense, our own bodies are just puppets. Without souls and consciences, there is no reason to live. (Both the Greek and Hebrew words for "soul" and "life" are the same.)


Tink
Posted 26 May 2007 at 10:08 am

Humm, has any one else thought about the movie with Robin Williams playing the robot who lives for 800 years? I don't think that creeped any one out. But in the movie, the elder sister disliked the bot from the start, just because,I would venture to guess the valley thing.

And lets look back to the Wizard of Oz, the tin man, what the hell happened to him?
Was he a robot turned human or a human turned to tin?
Or a victim of too much smoking the poppies from a homemade aliminium pipe? LOL.

More so than the robots I find the sculpture's by Patricia Piccinini to be too freaky cool. I love some of it as in the above, "The Young Family" and if you do a search for her website, and happen to be a fan of Animal planets Meerkat Manor, you will find another piece that will blow your mind. But she also has some very creepy, Sci-Fi type of creatures interacting with children,and babies, it aint E.T.
DI! Marisa, thank you for contributing to this great site.


jaydawg53
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:46 pm

The only thing that made me feel odd when watching Final Fantasy was that i knew the characters were CGI, yet the main character chick still gave me a funny feeling in my pants.

Am I the only one that thought she was hot?


Emmy
Posted 26 May 2007 at 11:51 pm

Uck! I wish we'd just stop making humanoid robots.


HiEv
Posted 27 May 2007 at 02:43 am

Rinson Drei said: "HiEv,


Your denials of a soul and conscience are beginning to creep me out. :^)"

LOL. But seriously, I didn't deny a "conscience," I just put it in different terms.

HiEv said: "Not really. If that were true then most TV shows and movies wouldn't work. A believable performance often requires faking emotions, and some people are quite good at that."

Misfit said: "This is one of the things that bugs me about people that assume things about acting and believe that it is fakery. Acting is basically living a lie, they all say.

Not true.

Acting (at least true acting) is one of the farthest things from fakery you can get. True actors use the emotions that they've really felt to conjure up for the purposes of their roles."

"True actors," eh? Why do I sense a "no-true Scotsman" fallacy here? Sure, some actors do use techniques to pull up emotions like that, but not all do. I guess those who don't aren't "true actors" though, huh? ;-P

Misfit said: "You can't fake an emotion you've never felt. If you try to do so, it just won't be convincing."

I understand you believe that, but what evidence do you have that that is always true? You are making a claim that cannot possibly be verified because you cannot know that it can never happen.

Rinson Drei said: "What HiEv is describing is what sociopaths do: practice emotions in order to fool their victims. They can eventually build a great imitation of them, often in all external detail more "real" and passionate than those with consciences. But people who encounter them invariably sense something off about them."

I'm sorry, but "invariably"? I hate to tell you this, but sociopaths do often fool people. How do you think they lure their victims in and often avoid getting caught for years? (Also, the correct term is Antisocial Personality Disorder or APD or ASPD.) Keep in mind that most of what we know of APD comes from studies of prison populations, so we only really know about the ones that can't hide their disorder. It's a bad assumption that no people with APD can successfully hide their symptoms, because if they do then they never get recorded.

Besides, even if no sociopaths could pull it off, doesn't mean nobody and nothing else can pull it off either.

Rinson Drei said: "One can't fake or credibly imitate a soul or a conscience, though, because they are who we are, not what we do."

Not currently by software, no, at least usually not for very long. But it seems to me to be the height of human arrogance to assume it can never be done simply because you can't conceive of it.

The simplest way I could put this is to ask you to imagine that we can make an exact copy of someone's brain in software, and simulate how it works in real time. If you could do that then you would have a computer with all the same mental abilities as the human it was copied from. That's all the part that makes us "us" is, you know? Just brain cells and chemicals. Thus, now you would have a computer that has a conscience and emotions, just like the person it was copied from. Now, admittedly such a simulation is beyond current computer power (at least it is without massive numbers of computers), but it won't be in the future. So why are so many people so eager to insist that we humans are so special? That we have a gift that nothing else can ever have? I like feeling special too, but I don't think we should have to deny reality in order to feel that way.

And finally, regarding "imitating a soul," I would ask you if any other living creatures other than humans have "souls," and if so, which ones? Funny thing, there's lots of disagreement on this point. So far nobody has come up with a "soul detector" to settle the issue yet. ;-D (Heck, make a computer/robot/android that acts human enough and I bet some people will start saying they have souls too.)


InFrontAScreen
Posted 27 May 2007 at 05:41 am

People who are really good at math trigger the UV-effect in me. There is something slightly unsettling about their eyes, their body language or the conversations they make. They are a bit "off" from the rest of humanity. Maybe it is just because people who are good at math tend to have a smidgen of autistic personality traits. They get a flair for math, but at the same time they get lowered social skills.

Do the math guys freak you out too, or is it just me?


Bewildered
Posted 27 May 2007 at 06:17 pm

Great article Alan. Is it possible that the creepy feeling has come from the movie makers? The 'evil robot destroys the earth' has been around for a long time now. In the movies it's usually some gigantic robot that is clearly a robot and wants to break you into little pieces, which is quite scary. But imagine a humanoid robot that can pass as a human... they gain your trust, raise your children, make you feel loved etc... then they run off, take your house, empty your bank accounts, get legal custody over your children... hmm... i might throw a glass of electrolyte at my girlfriend tonight and see what she does...


Bewildered
Posted 27 May 2007 at 06:20 pm

Opps! Sorry Marisa! Great article. :-)


CSP
Posted 27 May 2007 at 08:15 pm

Wow, it's hard to add anything to HiEv's awesome rebuttals, but there were a couple of things I wanted to bring up.

(Both the Greek and Hebrew words for "soul" and "life" are the same.)

The problem here is that it's the translators who decide to translate those words sometimes as "soul" and sometimes as "life" - the original word(s) didn't contain these distinct concepts as you or I understand them today. If a future language which evolved from English recombined these two words, you might be able to talk about how that word refers to both concepts, but when you work the other way around (from an earlier language to a later one, or between two unrelated languages) and make that claim, you're inserting information that wasn't originally present. It's sort of like... if you blow a 4 pixel green image up to 16 pixels, split up the colors, and then say "You know, the original image used 1 green pixel to represent these 4 blue and yellow pixels!" It doesn't work. The original image was nothing more than 4 green pixels - it's only from your perspective, having seen it next to the expanded image, that the comparison to the extra pixels can be made.

Haha, sorry for bringing in another technology analogy.

Misfit said: Acting (at least true acting) is one of the farthest things from fakery you can get. True actors use the emotions that they've really felt to conjure up for the purposes of their roles."

HiEv said: "True actors," eh? Why do I sense a "no-true Scotsman" fallacy here? Sure, some actors do use techniques to pull up emotions like that, but not all do. I guess those who don't aren't "true actors" though, huh? ;-P

Right on. It's wrong to assume that this is the only way to act convincingly. The method I was taught, for instance, insists that attempting "true" emotion onstage is the absolute last thing you should do, because your emotions are unreliable and largely uncontrollable. A lot of great actors use this technique.

I don't see how there can be any doubt that fake emotions can fool people. It happens every day to just about everyone. Have you never told a lie? Almost always this involves feigning some sort of emotion. Are you saying you've been caught every single time you lied, and caught everyone who has ever lied to you? And if you want an example closer to the robots being discussed here (who, in principle, can never feel any emotion at all), look at animated characters in films, games, etc. Did you feel no empathy for Bambi, Gollum, or the thousands of other artificial stars of films which bank on their characters creating believable emotion for the audience? If the expression on an animated character's face has ever moved anything inside of you, then on some level you've "believed" an utterly artificial and false emotion.


Lisette
Posted 27 May 2007 at 09:58 pm

DI article as usual, though I just came across an article in my newspaper about this couple of weeks back. Has anyone seen Bicentennial Man? Its got Robin Willaims acting as an android... Very cool, partly creepy - especially the part where the little girl in the family grows up to love him and after shes dead he and the daughter fall in love ewwww gross!


Red1337Sox
Posted 27 May 2007 at 11:00 pm

HiEv said: "LOL. But seriously, I didn't deny a "conscience," I just put it in different terms.

Misfit said: "This is one of the things that bugs me about people that assume things about acting and believe that it is fakery. Acting is basically living a lie, they all say.

Not true.

Acting (at least true acting) is one of the farthest things from fakery you can get. True actors use the emotions that they've really felt to conjure up for the purposes of their roles.""

HiEv your whole arguments have just been "you cant prove that". How can you prove the things you are saying?


Bolens
Posted 28 May 2007 at 05:35 am

Yes, Red1337Sox, I used to live on a farm and sometimes when reading posts I want my boots back too.

CSP said: "The problem here is that it's the translators who decide to translate those words sometimes as "soul" and sometimes as "life" - the original word(s) didn't contain these distinct concepts as you or I understand them today."

Agreed. They probably had a better grasp of "soul" and "life," not wasting one by dismissing the other.

Marisa, a great write!


Hoekstes
Posted 28 May 2007 at 06:38 am

stormmind said: "I do not agree about FF vs LotR. Characters in FF were OK as far as creepiness goes, just that the story was a bit shallow and poorly executed, proving once again that having a great trademark and lots of cash backing isn't enough (hello spiderman 3). On the other hand Gollum in LotR was really creepy, methinks, but the movie had an excellent director, who really tryed to pass on the feeling of the books, and more or less succeded. When it comes to movies, it's all about the overall impression and story. Hollywood seems to have forgotten that.


Just my 0,02€"

Hey, that's what I wanted to say! Future predicting android plagerist!


EVERYTHINGZEN
Posted 28 May 2007 at 02:54 pm

This is for real very disturbing! The uncanny valley does exist, at least I think so.

The Polar Express I thought was creepy. It took a bit to get used to the format. Think of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum too, though I have never been there I have of course seen the wax replicas on Discovery. Those things are so life like they freak me out, even though they are made of wax. I could see why his daughter was freaked out by seeing a robotic replica of herself at only 4 years old. I'm 25 and that would scare the hell out of me, what did he expect?

I certainly hope computers never possess the ability to completely act as a human, I really don't think I could get used to that and I'm pretty sure as uneducated as half the world is, it wouldn't sit well with a lot of people. Probably for many of the same reasons humans refute the possibility of aliens (a lot of people anyway, not everyone). They just aren't us, even if they were created by us instead of dropped here via spacecraft, much of the same fear and curiosity would surround them, yet they would never be fully accepted.

Hey after over a hundred years of prejudice Caucasians have waged against Africans, and that still isn't resolved in a lot of places, it's still ingrained in a lot of people, and looking at how many people now feel about those who are homosexual, do you really think humans are capable of accepting a subhuman race or anything unlike themselves? Highly unlikely, we are a people very very resistant to change. We can't even get along with other humans that are different, maybe science should stray from the robots and work on our prejudices first.


SnowBanks
Posted 29 May 2007 at 09:49 am

Polar Express was a terrible film, not just because of the creepiness of the animated characters, but because of the insultingly thin plot and dialogue. I was so incredibly bored watching it, the plot just moved so slow and the dialogue wasn't sufficient to develop the characters.

I haven't seen the Final Fantasy movie, but it sounds like there is a trend with these productions spending all resources on having realistic human-looking animations and having very little left over to develop plot / characters.


Ironclaw
Posted 29 May 2007 at 12:01 pm

Ishiguro was inspired to develop a mechanical double after becoming tired of his long commute from the little town of Keihanna to a teaching position at Osaka University. He sees the android double as an improvement on videoconferencing, allowing not just the speaker's image and voice to be transmitted but also his or her presence.

Great... when the wireless connection goes down I get a professorial version of Max Headroom... this is not an efficient use of my tuition.

"Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" - IC


Meeshymeg
Posted 29 May 2007 at 02:06 pm

Great article, I'd never heard of the uncanny valley, but I've experienced it. Whoever mentioned The Ring was right on, I can't watch horror movie backwards walking and the like. I can understand the desire to create something superhuman, but I don't have that desire myself. It can do the job, won't take sick days or take breaks, won't talk back, doesn't need an interview or training. Maybe we can all just sit back and make money off of our robots and some of the more dangerous jobs won't be necessary anymore. Someone brought up the legal changes that will have to be made, specifically whether or not to outlaw a sex robot made to look like a 10 year old. Very interesting and it would take a lot of thought. Reminds me of a Palahniuk story about a woman who felt sympathy and plotted revenge after finding out that a resuscitation doll made from a human death mask and anatomically correct dolls used for helping kids testify was being used as a sex toy by child welfare workers and the police. I wish I remembered more details. Anyway, DI!


rezboscace
Posted 29 May 2007 at 05:43 pm

I saw the new Shrek (the 3rd) movie yesterday and I think it slides down the slope into they valley in a few scenes.

I agree with HiEv on the souls question. And I was going to add that, even as there's no way to be sure that a computer couldn't simulate having a "soul," there's no way to be sure a computer couldn't have a soul.

But then HiEv beat me to it. Anyway, I think that theme (can a man-made thing have a soul?) "animates" much speculative fiction, but the only examples I can think of are Frankenstein and Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?


Richard
Posted 30 May 2007 at 05:48 am

I think Spike and Plank touched on the heart of the matter - body language. Take a look at yourself in a mirror. It takes real effort and concentration to hold perfectly still. For people, the default state is one of constant tiny motions. The eyes dart about, blinking happens at random intervals, muscles twitch slightly, etc. We unconsciously *expect* to see this movement in others. For simulacra, the default state is one of rest. One has to *program* these little movements. If we don't see them, alarm bells go off in our minds telling us that Something Is Amiss.

If a simulacrum is sufficiently non-human in appearance, we notice right away that it is Non-Human, so we don't expect to see any body language.


shanachie
Posted 30 May 2007 at 12:28 pm

Dizzee said: "What I have to wonder is, if robots acting like humans are supposed to be so creepy, then why are humans acting like robots amusing?"

Obviously, it creeps out the robots.


LeadProphet
Posted 30 May 2007 at 06:11 pm

In a somewhat unobvious way, it is also imperative that computer game creators design the AI computer players of their games in such a way that they play like a human opponent - too hard (trying to be human but failing), and the human player realizes the kind of uncanny skill inherent in a well-programmed expert system. Too easy (not trying to look human at all), and the human player sees that he or she is playing against an inferior machine.


just_dave
Posted 30 May 2007 at 10:57 pm

Tink said: "Humm, has any one else thought about the movie with Robin Williams playing the robot who lives for 800 years? I don't think that creeped any one out. But in the movie, the elder sister disliked the bot from the start, just because, I would venture to guess the valley thing. "

I thought of Bicentennial Man also. I think the androids in that movie worked well because they were "un-human" enough that they didn't evoke the creepout factor. The best way to avoid the Uncanny Valley reaction is to make the android/robot intentionally un-human. Like Richard said above:

"If a simulacrum is sufficiently non-human in appearance, we notice right away that it is Non-Human, so we don't expect to see any body language."

Thus we don't have to worry about bridging the valley. Plus, if the androids are obviously un-human in appearance, they're easy to spot and it's less likely that someone will try to pass one off as a human. People will still anthropomorphize them, just as they do with cars & computers & pets.

Another movie that I saw recently that jumped the Uncanny Valley was Monster House. MH used the same technique — performance capture — as was used in The Polar Express, but the characters were given an intentionally cartoony look, which was probably the trick that kept it out of the depths of the valley.


thingummy
Posted 31 May 2007 at 09:23 am

jesse2b said: "Not to worry. The First Law of Robotics states (I believe) "No robot can harm any person" (Dr. Isaac Asimov). Then, the good doctor's many robots were never human-like. That would be creepy."

Start with "Caves of Steel" by Isaac Asimov and you'll find extremely human robots. Banned on Earth for being too human-like.


Cogito7
Posted 02 June 2007 at 11:19 pm

Just thought about something : there is more to this valley of the uncanny than just things that look human... Ever heard of Necoro? It's a robotic cat that came out a few years ago (available only in Japan). A couple of reviewers mentionned it looked creepy (like a taxidermy experiment gone wrong, like one of them put it) and even my mother said the same thing. So you don't even need to look human at all, anything that looks like a reanimated corpse creeps us out. So I guess there must be something to the idea that it's related to our fear of death.


ConcernedCitizen
Posted 05 June 2007 at 12:31 am

another example: an oversized creepy infant robot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrQkuMNmaqk


supercalafragalistic
Posted 21 July 2007 at 09:48 pm

Any one want to address the creepy factor of Mister Rogers? I was always creeped out by him. Was it because he was faking his emotions, or hiding something about himself? I think any robotic version of him would have made me less creeped out than the real person.


Hayley
Posted 07 August 2007 at 11:48 am

I have some friends at school who have a running joke about weird-looking people being in the "Uncanny Valley." I always thought it was hilarious...though, probably not if you fell in.


Hayley
Posted 07 August 2007 at 11:49 am

supercalafragalistic said: "Any one want to address the creepy factor of Mister Rogers? I was always creeped out by him. Was it because he was faking his emotions, or hiding something about himself? I think any robotic version of him would have made me less creeped out than the real person."

I saw a video of Mr. Rogers trying to set up a tent once. It kept falling over, and he would get really pissed and yell all sorts of curses at it that were certainly not the norm for him...I don't think. I would have to imagine, playing with puppets and feeding the same fish and changing your shoes all the time would get terribly frustrating. He was probably hiding at least some emotions.


MiladyM
Posted 08 August 2007 at 07:07 am

Domo Arigatou Mr. Roboto!


HiEv
Posted 27 August 2007 at 01:16 pm

Red1337Sox said: "HiEv your whole arguments have just been "you cant prove that". How can you prove the things you are saying?"

I can't prove them without actually demonstrating them, and I can't do that since the technology simply hasn't been invented/perfected yet. However, I can make arguments about why it should be possible eventually, and that's what I've already been doing.

None of the arguments made so far against computer simulation of human reactions are good scientific reasons why it can't be done, they're merely people's superstitious feelings that it shouldn't be possible, and that simply isn't a good argument. Yes, it truly may not be possible, but I haven't heard one rational reason why not yet, and the evidence suggests that it should be possible, so that's the best argument for why it probably is possible that I can give right now.

If you have some specific point I made that you'd like me to provide further arguments for, name it and I will.


dacoobob
Posted 27 November 2007 at 07:16 pm

Tink said: "More so than the robots I find the sculpture's by Patricia Piccinini to be too freaky cool. I love some of it as in the above, "The Young Family" and if you do a search for her website, and happen to be a fan of Animal planets Meerkat Manor, you will find another piece that will blow your mind. But she also has some very creepy, Sci-Fi type of creatures interacting with children,and babies, it aint E.T."

Interesting. I for one found the photo of the sculpture in the article incredibly creepy and repulsive. I actually physically recoiled from the computer screen when I saw it, and scrolled it off the screen as fast as I could. I was really surprised at the strength of my reaction to it-- I'm not usually weirded out easily at all. Apparently the "uncanny" response is different for different people.


patrick89
Posted 13 December 2007 at 05:49 pm

I think the new movie Beowulf was a good example of this at times. I found the start of the movie to be slightly unrealistic (the human faces and such) but found that they seemed more realistic as the movie progressed. Either I got used to their only semi-real natures or they actually improved. Either way, at the start of the movie, I definitely got a sense of Uncanny Valley. I think Beowulf is a good example of technology getting closer to overcoming that Uncanny Valley effect. It's still not perfect but it's getting there quite quickly CGI wise. Robots will probably be a bit harder though.


Me2
Posted 19 May 2008 at 06:53 pm

The Wizard of Oz movie's flying monkeys creeped me out as a child, and still do. Also, the gremlin in an episode of The Twilight Zone with William Shatner where it almost crashed the plane. Their faces were just too bizarre. Until I read this article, I did not realize the "science" behind this phenomenon.


smiles are free
Posted 06 July 2008 at 10:20 am

To be honest I can't ever see a point where we are able to create a computer that reacts like a human. Because computers will do EXACTLY what you tell them to exery single time. If you ask it thesame question 5 times it will give you an identical answer 5 times over. Because no matter how many words and gramatical structures you program in, the computer will allways choose the simplest and most informtive answer, every time. Also, humans are different from each other, one human may find something funny that another won't, so when programming in humor there will be lots of blank areas.

As for emotion, we do not really comprehend exactly how we convay our own emotions so there is almost no change that we will be able to program a robot to change it body language, heartbeat, smell, facial expression, speach and countless other things that doutlessly will change with emotion.

Also, and i am aware that this argument has been made too many times before, a computer will never truley be able to do everything a human does, becases humans learn and, by defination, a computer can not.

xxx


BenKinsey
Posted 19 September 2008 at 12:55 pm

Furnace said: "I’ve only been skimming the comments at this point, so some of this may have been stated already.

The Uncanny Valley will disappear in a single generation after human-like robots become prevalent in society. The children that grow up with them will not find anything uncanny or creepy because they will be well adjusted to the differences between real humans and robots. However, they will be masters at identifying what’s real and what’s not for this reason.

Robots that simulate humans will not be used in everyday life like people seem to be expecting. The “robot maid” will never happen because as someone had pointed out earlier, there are a lot of human details that are completely unnecessary/ill-suited for a robot. Robots that defuse bombs don’t look human, nor should they. The human simulations will thrive in movies, “customer service” where face-to-face interaction is needed/desired (like bartenders), the sex toy industry, and a few others. Basically, watch Star Wars and you’ll see where we’re headed for the most-part. Robots will be built to suit their function and that’s it. Anything beyond that would be poor design.

There will be ethical debates that will undoubtedly slow the progress of robots entering society, but eventually end with a new branch of laws that govern how robots should be created and who is punished if something goes wrong. If a robot bartender serves a drink to a child, should the designer be punished for not adding that restriction to the design, or would the bar owner be punished for allowing it to happen? (If you park a car on a steep hill and leave the parking brake off, and it rolls into a person, the car owner is responsible, not the car maker.) Is a sex robot built to look like a ten year old girl going to be illegal? Why should it be?… no child is being harmed. THIS is what we have to look forward to."

I like you thought process and I agree with you.


Mirage_GSM
Posted 24 October 2008 at 06:14 am

jesse2b: Not to worry. The First Law of Robotics states (I believe) "No robot can harm any person" (Dr. Isaac Asimov). Then, the good doctor's many robots were never human-like. That would be creepy.

Uhm…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._Daneel_Olivaw
Nicki: Because a robot that is disconcertingly human-like has frightful implications. If one day in the future a robot is so hume-like that we can't tell the difference, we would always go about in fear of being tricked. You wouldn't know if your conversation is being recorded or if you are talking to a walking bomb.

Yeah, right… We don’t even need robots for either…

Smiles: Also, and i am aware that this argument has been made too many times before, a computer will never truley be able to do everything a human does, becases humans learn and, by defination, a computer can not.

Computers can’t learn? Now that’s new. There’s plenty of computers/software that are better at learning than most humans.


stanozdotcom
Posted 04 January 2011 at 10:42 am

I just developed a new '3D productivity pipeline' for commercial and amateur/personal work: FaceGen, MakeHuman, and Blender3D. However, having read this piece and doing a little research on Uncanny Valley on Wikipedia... I just decided it isn't best for me to make 3D models that are too photorealistic. I have learnt a lot in the last 45 minutes! I think I'll stick with 3D models and animations that aren't going to make viewers (and me!!) uncomfortable. I'll leave photorealism to nature. :0)


Jake
Posted 21 October 2014 at 01:03 pm

ieatlettuce said: "I've always thought it funny that we (humans) want to make robots that look like us and do things like us. Surely the "design" of humans is not particularly practical - balancing on two legs is much harder than on four, not to mention all the other things that make us human, but are really unnecessary in a robot - blinking for example.

Also, I've never been to a Madame Tussauds but do they have the same problems there - where some people find the models too odd (too human perhaps?) to look at?
Finally, I remember hearing about a movie studio or production company or something that had bought the rights to use Bruce Lee's image to make a movie featuring a life-like, CGI Bruce. Heresy is my cry and I am so glad it hasn't come to fruition yet."

When you think about it though, it makes sense to model robots after ourselves to some extent. The vast majority of things that an android would need to interact with in today's world would have been originally designed with humans in mind. As such, the human form logically makes the most sense to duplicate in terms of trying to design a robot that can carry out day to day functions in a place such as a home, store, or restaurant.


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