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The Uncanny Valley: Between Lifelike Robots and the Fear of Death

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    What is the uncanny valley theory? The uncanny valley theory, introduced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, describes the discomfort or sense...

    What is the uncanny valley theory? The uncanny valley theory, introduced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, describes the discomfort or sense of unease people experience when they encounter humanoid robots or computer-animated characters that appear almost, but not quite, human-like. This phenomenon arises when the representation of human beings in artificial intelligence or animation becomes so lifelike that it causes an emotional response, making the observer increasingly uneasy as the representation approaches true human appearance but remains slightly off.

    Is the uncanny valley for corpses? The concept of the uncanny valley is closely related to human cognition and emotional responses to nonhuman stimuli. When Masahiro Mori first presented the idea, he used the term "bukimi no tani," which translates from Japanese to English as "valley of eeriness." He drew a connection between humanoid robots and the human fear of death, suggesting that human-like robots might evoke reminders of corpses, which are human but motionless and devoid of life, thus creating an unsettling feeling.

    What is an example of the uncanny valley? A notable example of the uncanny valley in Hollywood is the animated film "The Polar Express." Many viewers found the computer-generated facial expressions of the animated characters to be eerily lifelike, but still not entirely realistic, causing a sense of unease. Similarly, the computer-animated characters in the "Final Fantasy" film series have often been cited for evoking the uncanny valley effect due to their photorealistic, yet slightly off, human appearances.

    What does uncanny valley mean in slang? In slang, the term "uncanny valley" has been used to describe any situation where something is almost perfect but slightly off, especially in contexts outside of robotics or animation, such as social media or virtual reality. It encapsulates the weird, unsettling feeling people get when something appears almost real but isn't quite right.

    What is the theory behind the uncanny valley? Neuroscience suggests that the human cortex has specialized regions for processing human faces. Any slight mismatch in facial expressions or movements can be jarring. Researchers like MacDorman and Ishiguro have explored this, suggesting that the uncanny valley phenomenon might be rooted in evolutionary psychology. Our ancestors needed to be adept at quickly identifying potential threats, so anything resembling a human being but with an odd discrepancy might be flagged as a danger.

    What is the difference between the uncanny valley and the fear of death? While the uncanny valley elicits feelings of eeriness due to nearly lifelike representations, the fear of death is a profound and existential dread tied to our own mortality. The uncanny valley might remind us of death, as with the comparison to corpses, but the two are fundamentally different psychological experiences.

    Top 8 Software or Apps Evoking the Uncanny Valley:

    1. The Polar Express (film): The photorealistic animation gave audiences a sense of unease with its characters.
    2. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (film): A groundbreaking CGI film with lifelike characters, leading to mixed reactions.
    3. Hanson Robotics’ Sophia: A humanoid robot with advanced artificial intelligence, evoking strong reactions.
    4. Ishiguro’s Geminoid: A human-like robot designed to look like its creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro.
    5. David in Prometheus (film): A lifelike android, raising the stakes in the uncanny valley.
    6. Wired’s AI Article Writers: The way these algorithms write can sometimes feel eerily human.
    7. Virtual Reality Social Platforms: With avatars mimicking real-life movements, the line between virtual and real blurs.
    8. New York Times' CGI-based news segments: Often, they have photorealistic animations that can feel unsettling.
    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.