The truth about robotic's uncanny valley

January 30, 2010

[I]n person, most robots, particularly ones designed to interact with humans, are simply not scary. They're bumbling and a little helpless. Like a pet or a child, you cut them slack. In the most generalized, vaguely accurate way, the uncanny valley might apply to the corpse-eyed CG ghouls of The Polar Express or the recent animated Christmas Carol. But when it comes to robots, it's a largely hypothetical chasm, a term that only partially describes a fleeting, cognitive glitch that has no bearing on the way humans will live with machines.

It seems to me the author is being terribly short-sighted; sure, today, most robots we interact with are as described (i.e., not even remotely close to the valley's left-handed precipice), but, uhh, it's just a matter of time before human-like robots are able to accurately mimic our physical and social cues, and along this road, at various progressional stages, there no doubt will be awkward periods — however fleeting — where many facets of the human condition will be questioned, tested and ultimately altered.

I especially liked the following two comments on the article:

(1) I understand the uncanny valley lies in the difference between knowing and feeling. That our brain feels awkward when an intellectual idea (e.g.,, "this is a robot") contradicts a feeling (e.g., "I could have sex with this").

(2) If we really want to evolve as a species, and be able to take advantage of the amazing technologies that are coming down the pike - then maybe the first changes shouldn't be about robots becoming friendlier. Or AI becoming human-compatible. Maybe it's us that has to change. Maybe, along with the apparent strides we've made in conquering racism, we need to also reconsider our automatic reflex of repulsion, when gazing upon all things that are different, or weird. Whether those things are human beings of a different pigment, robots who don't fit our standards of human-like, or strange looking aliens in the future - maybe the first steps in approaching a truly advanced technological era, lies first in changing ourselves, our reactions, our snap judgements.

You should follow me on Twitter here