Chapter 1. THE UNCANNY VALLEY

27 10 2008

Chapter 1

THE UNCANNY VALLEY

Masahiro Mori (Mori Masahiro, born 1927) is a Japanese roboticist noted for his pioneering work on the emotional response of humans to non-human entities, as well as for his views on religion and robots.


In 1970, Mori published “Bukimi No Tani” (English title: The Uncanny Valley) in Energy. The article forwarded the hypothesis that as robots become more humanlike, they appear more familiar until a point is reached at which subtle imperfections of appearance make them look eerie. The observation leads Mori to the belief that robot builders should not attempt to make their creations overly life-like in appearance and motion. It states that the closer an object (a robot, an animated character) comes to resembling a human being in its motion and appearance, the more positive our emotional response to that object becomes until suddenly, at some point of very close (but not perfect) resemblance, our emotional response turns from empathy to revulsion. This revulsion or uneasiness, Mori says, is the result of a basic human tendency to look for anomalies in the appearance of other human beings. When an object such as a robot or an animated character is so anthropomorphic that it is nearly indistinguishable from a human being, we monitor the appearance of that object very closely and become extremely sensitive to any small anomalies that might identify the object as not fully human. For whatever reason, these anomalies create in many people a shudder of discomfort, similar in effect to the feeling we have when we watch a zombie movie or see an actual corpse. In both cases, what we see is both human and not fully human, and the contradiction produces a very negative reaction.

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