In to the Uncanny Valley
Joe Kloc, SEED Magazine Online
In Seed Magazine, Joe Kloc reports on PNAS findings that monkeys exhibit uncanny-valley-like-rejection of computerized/robotic monkeys. He also considers the history of (psuedo-) scientific explanations of uncanny valley, discussing Freud’s thoughts on the matter and the writings/works of roboticist Masahiro Mori. Kloc looks at how scientific explanations for the uncanny valley phenomenon are proceeding:
It has been suggested, for instance, that we avoid almost human figures because their peculiarities make them look sick, and we have developed an evolutionary mechanism for steering clear of pathogens. Another theory posits that we avoid figures with features slightly off from our own because they appear to be less-than-ideal mating material.
[Asif] Ghazanfar rejects all of these hypotheses. “What is really going on is much simpler,” he says. He believes the uncanny valley response occurs because an animal—human or nonhuman—is evolutionarily inclined to develop an expectation of what members of its species should look like, a supremely important skill, as it lets the animal know with whom it can and cannot interact.
In this sense, life-like robotic and computer-generated models occupy a weird middle ground in an animal’s mind: They are familiar enough for the animal to consider the possibility that they are of the same species, but strange enough that they don’t quite meet the expectation the animal has developed for members of its species. “Any face that violates that expectation is going to elicit the uncanny response,” Ghazanfar says.
- Also in Seed Magazine, anthropologist Greg Laden writes about the uncanny in human expectations of how other humans should look. ((Unfortunately, his starting point is a reference to the movie Face/Off.))
- John Lennon Monsters in the Uncanny Valley. Richard Eskrow writes about how almost real thinks are creepy, including a AI project that attempts to resurrect the personality of John Lennon in Q&A conversation.
- BBC story on the origins of uncanny valley. (Also about the work of Ghazanfar at Princeton.)