The Uncanny Valley

 Page Number: 58

The Uncanny Valley

April 13th, 2004

PAGE FOOTNOTES: Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori has an answer for why monster-movie zombies are so horrifying and talking animals are so fascinating to people; something he calls "The Uncanny Valley". Originally devised as a way to explore what would be tolerable, and intolerable, to most people with regard to the appearance of future humanoid robots, Dr. Mori's concepts apply to any nonhuman sapient entity.  The basic idea of the Uncanny Valley is a graph, which vaguely resembles the letter 'N', upon which can be plotted any number of strange creatures, according to whether they inspire fascination or fear. What he discovered is that if a creature is very unhuman, it is often less frightening than a creature that approximates humanity but fails to be completely human. In effect, a talking cartoon-like dog may be funny or fascinating, but realistic humanoid dog would be terrifying to most humans. A faulty attempt to approximate humanity drops sharply on Dr. Mori's graph, into...that very 'Uncanny Valley' of being disturbing. Most humans see failure to precisely resemble humanity as either disfigurement or something too bizarre to be accepted. Thus Dr. Mori's suggestion that future robots should not be made to appear like human beings until it is possible to do so nearly perfectly, and should instead be made to look obviously robotic in order to be accepted without fear.

Following this, an animated plastic doll, such as Heliotrope, would be either terrifically fascinating or terribly disturbing to interact with. Unless, of course, one is not a normal person. Imagine what it would be like to actually be confronted with such a creature!

Personally, I would welcome it.

By Jennifer Diane Reitz

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