Uncanny valley

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The uncanny valley hypothesis holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's lifelikeness.

It was introduced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, and has been linked to Ernst Jentsch's concept of "the uncanny" identified in a 1906 essay, "On the Psychology of the Uncanny". Jentsch's conception is famously elaborated upon by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay titled "The Uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche"). A similar problem exists in realistic 3D computer animation, such as with the films Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, The Polar Express,[1] and Beowulf,[2] and games like Heavy Rain.[3]


[edit] Hypothesis

Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.[4]

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely-human" and "fully human" entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is "almost human" will seem overly "strange" to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathetic response required for productive human-robot interaction.[4]

[edit] Theoretical basis

Hypothesized emotional response of human subjects is plotted against anthropomorphism of a robot, following Mori's statements. The uncanny valley is the region of negative emotional response towards robots that seem "almost human". Movement amplifies the emotional response.

The phenomenon can be explained by the notion that, if an entity is sufficiently non-humanlike, then the humanlike characteristics will tend to stand out and be noticed easily, generating empathy. On the other hand, if the entity is "almost human", then the non-human characteristics will be the ones that stand out, leading to a feeling of "strangeness" in the human viewer. In other words, a robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a good job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

Another possibility is that humanoid robots exhibit many visual anomalies similar to the ones seen in seriously ill individuals and corpses, and so elicit the same instinctual alarm and revulsion. The reaction may become worse with robots because it is not a natural phenomenon, whereas the "uncanniness" of a corpse is more easily rationalised.[citation needed]

Another possibility is that the uncanny valley is a vestige of an instinct that prevented our species from interbreeding with other intelligent primates (e.g., Neanderthal).[citation needed]

[edit] Transhumanism

According to writer Jamais Cascio, a similar "uncanny valley" effect could show up when humans begin modifying themselves with transhuman enhancements (cf. body modification), which aim to improve the abilities of the human body beyond what would normally be possible, be it eyesight, muscle strength, or cognition.[citation needed] So long as these enhancements remain within a perceived norm of human behavior, a negative reaction is unlikely, but once individuals supplant normal human variety, revulsion can be expected. However, according to this theory, once such technologies gain further distance from human norms, "transhuman" individuals would cease to be judged on human levels and instead be regarded as separate entities altogether (this point is what has been dubbed "posthuman"), and it is here that acceptance would rise once again out of the uncanny valley.[5]

[edit] Criticism

Some roboticists have heavily criticized the theory, arguing that Mori had no basis for the rightmost part of his chart, as human-like robots have only recently become technically possible. David Hanson, a roboticist who has developed realistic robotic copies of several people, including Albert Einstein and Philip K. Dick, said that the idea of the uncanny valley is "really pseudoscientific, but people treat it like it is science."[6][7] Sara Kiesler, a human-robot interaction researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, questioned uncanny valley's scientific status, stating, "We have evidence that it's true, and evidence that it's not."[8]

Roboticist Dario Floreano stated that the concept of the uncanny valley is not based on scientific evidence, but is taken seriously by the film industry due to negative audience reactions to the animated baby in Pixar's 1988 short film Tin Toy.[9][10] People's cultural backgrounds may have a considerable influence on how androids are perceived, including their perception of the uncanny valley (which implies that one raised in a culture of transhumans may not see as uncanny individuals who would to a modern-day person seem uncanny).[11][12]

[edit] Popular culture

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ When fantasy is just too close for comfort - The Age, June 10, 2007
  2. ^ Digital Actors in ‘Beowulf’ Are Just Uncanny - New York Times, November 14, 2007
  3. ^ The depths of the uncanny valley - CNET Australia, July 11, 2006
  4. ^ a b Mori, Masahiro (1970). Bukimi no tani The uncanny valley (K. F. MacDorman & T. Minato, Trans.). Energy, 7(4), 33–35. (Originally in Japanese)
  5. ^ Jamais Cascio, The Second Uncanny Valley
  6. ^ The Man Who Mistook His Girlfriend for a Robot, Popular Science
  7. ^ Uncanny Valley | Hafta Magazine
  8. ^ The Man Who Mistook His Girlfriend for a Robot, Popular Science
  9. ^ Dario Floreano. Bio-Mimetic Robotics
  10. ^ EPFL. [1]
  11. ^ Bartneck, C., Kanda, T., Ishiguro, H., & Hagita, N. (2007). Is the Uncanny Valley an Uncanny Cliff? Proceedings of the 16th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication, RO-MAN 2007, Jeju, Korea pp. 368-373. | DOI: 10.1109/ROMAN.2007.4415111
  12. ^ Bartneck, C. (2008). Who like androids more: Japanese or US Americans? Proceedings of the 17th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication, RO-MAN 2008, München pp. 553-557. view html
  13. ^ Loder, Kurt (2004-11-10). "'The Polar Express' Is All Too Human". MTV. http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1493616/11102004/story.jhtml. Retrieved on 2007-12-14. 

[edit] References

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