Better Explainations for Uncanny Valley

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.

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3 thoughts on “Better Explainations for Uncanny Valley

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