The uncanny valley as a term, was first coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970. It refers to a hypothesis rather than a theory in both robotics and virtual reality, but one which as technology advances, holds up to scrutiny more and more.
It holds that as an artificial human body looks far from the appearance we would expect, so we bond with it as cute, or adorable. But, as the artificial looks more and more realistic, moves more and more realistically, we enter a valley in which after a point, instead of cuteness, we see revulsion and an increasing sense of wrongness. This part of the hypothesis has been borne out.
Yet, after the valley of revulsion, as it continues to appear more and more normal, to move more and more as expected, the artificial human whether robotic or virtual, climbs out of this valley towards a higher and higher degree of acceptance until it is considered the same as any other human.
It is the climb out of this valley that is proving the most difficult part of conquering the uncanny valley. Sinking deep into it, we have already mastered. Until we conquer it completely, both android and virtual embodiment applications are going to encounter widespread acceptance issues.
Introduction to the Valley
Basic information about what the uncanny valley actually is, and ways in which it affects us and our interaction with artificial bodies, both virtual and physical.
Our uncanny ability to spot a fake
A BBC article on the difficulty of maintaining the metaphor inside virtual space, and the issues with uncanny valley that make CGI realism so elusive.
Galatea and Modern Robotics: The Allusion
At first glance, it would not seem that an ancient Grecian myth would have anything to do with modern robotics. Yet, whilst still not commonplace, the allusion to Galatea is slowly gaining popularity as a phrase used to reference modern robots and android/gynoids. Certainly as we move ever-closer to bridging the uncanny valley, this allusion makes ever more sense.
Large Image Display: The Stepford Wives: Soulless Automation
A scene from 'The Stepford Wives' in which the robotic skin is shown to Joanna for the first time; along with the knowledge that she will soon be inside it, whether she wishes it or not. This plays on the submersion of humanity within the machine, and also the uncanny valley.
Large Image Display: The Uncanny Valley
Our look into the original works of Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori and his American counterpart Karl MacDorman, in the mapping out of what we now term the Uncanny Valley, and the nuances within it. Giving hope to the prospect of finally being able to crack the valley and escape it for good.
The Uncanny Valley
The Uncanny Valley was introduced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, as a term referring to the hypothetical valley in which human-like fascimiles suddenly go from 'cute' to 'vile' with almost no warning.
The deepest trough in the valley is between approximately 95% and 99.9% of human appearance. Yet why is this trough there? What is so frightening about these near-human-but-not visages, and what would be some examples of such?
The depths of the uncanny valley: Dealing with uncanniness
One part of a three-part series on overcoming the Uncanny Valley from a game developer?s perspective; written in 2006. This final part discusses the efforts of others to overcome the valley, and the side effects it has had on the development process.
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Even a visage that looks as human as it can, is spoilt by the most subtle of differences that become jarring to the viewer. Dead eyes, jerky movements, too-perfect skin are but a few of the issues we have to overcome.
True 3D Endoscopy
Whilst endoscopes and laproscopic surgery are truly a revolutionary way of peering inside the body and performing complex operations from tiny incisions, the size of the endoscope has always traditionally limited them to single cameras and flat displays. But, with a little lateral thinking, even a single camera can produce stereoscopy.
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Speech and the Valley
Synthetic speech is an area that still needs an awful lot of work. There is very little point in an avatar or robotic embodiment looking human, if it is capable of speech but unable to speak like one.
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Interaction and the Valley
Even if an avatar or physical embodiment passes muster visually. If it looks right, talks and moves right, we still run afoul of the valley if when you go to interact with it, the otherness of the being comes across. If it doesn't interact quite right, like a foreigner speaking a strange tongue, or an inability to work with body language or tonal inflection of the human user that another human would spot.
Large Image Display: The Stepford Wives: Stuck in a Loop
The uncanny valley is a fickle thing. Everything can be fine one moment, and the next, even a slight error in programming, or even a data processing error, triggers it, and you go from believably human to terrifyingly wrong, in a space of only a few seconds.
Sociable Robotic Trash Cans
A study using Sociable trash bots that require human interaction to pick up trash, was carried out by researchers from Toyohashi University in Japan, aimed at detecting the subconscious and instinctual reactions to social robots outside of normal boundaries.
The Uncanny Valley: Effect of Realism on the Impression of Artificial Human Faces
A MIT Presence magazine free feature. Roboticists believe that people will have an unpleasant impression of a humanoid robot that has an almost, but not perfectly, realistic human appearance. This is called the uncanny valley, and is not limited to robots, but is also applicable to any type of human-like object, such as dolls, masks, facial caricatures, avatars in virtual reality, and characters in computer graphics movies.
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Intimate Interaction and the Valley
Intimate interaction does not necessarily mean of a sexual nature. It refers to any instance when the user and in particular, physically embodied robots and prosthetics, must touch one another. Flesh has a certain feel to it, a certain warmth which must be present. Certain ways of responding to touch which must also be present, or an instinctual revulsion is felt – the Valley once more.
Bypassing the Uncanny Valley with Hands
In August 2008, the first hand and forearm pairing was achieved which realistically bypasses the uncanny valley for the lower arm, and allows completely realistic movement of the wrist and hand.
Large Image Display: Bicentennial Man: Aging Android
The concept of aging, or the appearance thereof, is a good one. It is an aspect of circumnavigating the uncanny valley that should never be forgotten: No matter how perfectly a human face, behaviour, mannerisms are recreated, unless the face, the body seems to change with time, the uncanny valley has not really been conquered.