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Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the says-you-dude dept.

Graphics 214

malachiorion writes "Are humanoid bots and CGI characters still crawling their way out of the Uncanny Valley? Maybe, but maybe it doesn't matter. Here's a cold, hard look at a popular robotics theory that might have no legs to stand on, android or otherwise. It's everything that seems wrong and irrelevant about the Uncanny Valley that I wasn't able to fit into this month's Popular Mechanics cover story on social bots."

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214 comments

fp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849486)

insect politics

Re:fp (1)

PoliTech (998983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850068)

With all the Botox politicians are using these days, reality is catching up to the uncanny CGI look. But what kind of sick mind would deliberately design a CG San Fran Nan? (full disclosure: did not RTFA)

yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first place? (3, Interesting)

markhahn (122033) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849496)

I think it's weird that some people have a fascination with humanoid robots in the first place. seems like most Japanese robot efforts (at least those that make the press here) are in that vein. sure, there's a golden place in the future for replicants and sex slaves, but to me those seem like fairly narrow niches. if I'm designing robots with the goal of getting useful stuff done, I certainly wouldn't start with a humanoid layout, with all respect to evolution ;)

I admit it, all the Japanese robot coverage I see is either kawai-oriented or thinly-veiled sex-slave oriented (or both). no doubt that only reflects my taste in paper an online media...

there's no Uncanny Valley for Roombas.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (2, Insightful)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849594)

with all respect to evolution

Humans are a small niche in biological evolution. Most creatures are very well adapted for specific environments and life strategies, which I presume is the underlying point you are making about how robots should be designed. If you have a recent model new car that is midrange or higher in price, you have a robot. Roombas, appliances with computers in them, washing machines, dishwashers, robots all. We just haven't been calling them that.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849662)

Robot actors, doctors, teachers etc. all would likely be more personable/likable with a human form and appearance. I'm sure you can imagine a humanoid robot being a bit more comfortable to be around than something out of the terminator series at the doctor's office as an example. The point of humanoid robots likely goes beyond being a cute-bot or any of the examples I've used.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1, Offtopic)

The Wild Norseman (1404891) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849744)

I'm sure you can imagine a humanoid robot being a bit more comfortable to be around than something out of the terminator series at the doctor's office as an example.

"What? My appointment with doctor Smith isn't until four o'clock?

I'll be back."

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (0, Offtopic)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849884)

Dr. Smith: I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your illness and I realized that it's not actually a bacteria. Every bacteria on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but your illness do not. It moves to an area and it multiplies and multiplies until every natural resource is consumed and the only way it can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. You have a disease, a cancer. You're a plague and I will find you the cure.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (2, Funny)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850226)

I'm sure you can imagine a humanoid robot being a bit more comfortable to be around than something out of the terminator series at the doctor's office as an example.

"What? My appointment with doctor Smith isn't until four o'clock?

I'll be back."

You'll be back? Well I should certainly hope so, my silver-skulled simpleton! Late for your last appointment, early for this one, it's a wonder you ever should turn up at all, you Meat-packed metal moron, you colossal chrome cretin!

Oh, the pain, the pain of it all...

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1, Funny)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850048)

Robot actors

How about Steven Segal? Or Tom Cruise? Dolph Lundgren? Ah-nuld Schwartzenegger? Sylvester Sallone? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Vin Diesel?

There's already been a number of successful robotic actors.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (2, Insightful)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849674)

Humanoid robots are great as they can use the same tools as humans can and can more easily relate to humans. Why build several $5,000 domestic chore robots that need special tools when you can buy one $20,000 humanoid robot that does all of the shores, need no special tools to clean the toilets, do the dishes, and vacuum the floor except the cheap tools humans already use. Plus make it so you can shag the robot so that makes it win-win... Kinda hard to have a relationship with a Roomba....

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (2, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849772)

Kinda hard to have a relationship with a Roomba....

I take it you've tried?

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (0, Offtopic)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849852)

Mega-Maid...
She's gone from suck to blow!

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (2, Funny)

Polumna (1141165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850566)

What do you expect, Mother? I'm HALF MACHINE!

--Buster Bluth

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

Caesar Tjalbo (1010523) | more than 4 years ago | (#30851190)

Humanoid robots are great as they can use the same tools as humans

That would be interesting in a situation where the robot (temporarily) replaces a human or the tools are special.

Plenty of ordinary tools come with changeable parts, like screwdrivers/drills or tools that can be used with high pressure air. Adding a sort of 'Swiss army knife' of popular connections to the robot is probably more efficient for the robot. Many tools are electronic anyway. Should robots become more obvious in daily life, it seems to me a robot would use its hand to plug its, say, USB cable in a device rather than using the interface for humans.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (3, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849754)

I think it's weird that some people have a fascination with humanoid robots in the first place.

Everything we have is designed to work with our humanoid bodies, so if we want to make a device that interfaces with those things, it will work better if it shares the humanoid design.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (3, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30851168)

Everything we have is designed to work with our humanoid bodies, so if we want to make a device that interfaces with those things, it will work better if it shares the humanoid design.

To an extent. A humanoid form for domestic robots would seem useful but we see that a roomba does a pretty good job and it's nothing more than a flat disc. If you look at conversion kits to turn standard human-operated trucks into remote vehicles, they're admirably utilitarian with a set of stereoscoptic cameras mounted where a human head would go but with simple servo-operated levers for controlling the gas and brake and a neat little set of rubber gears for gripping and turning the steering wheel.

If we were to ever invent a general-purpose robot, one capable of doing many tasks, it might settle on a human form. Right now our robots tend to be more designed for the purpose. A roomba whirls around the room but does not lift furniture, does not have an attachment for getting between the cushions, etc. An automatic car wash is basically robotic and looks nothing like a human while doing the same work. They're usually worse at it than a human but all you'd need to fix that deficiency is mount some cameras so they can really see the job they're doing and have an articulated pressure washer and scrubber arm to get at the dirt that's not coming off. Computer vision systems are getting to the point where they really could identify clean and dirty with cars off the street. Previous example of computer vision system were like the ones the potato chip companies use to sort bad spuds and they check the incoming potatoes against a known list of acceptable potato colors.

There's a whole field of biomimicry that seeks to borrow nature's solutions for various engineering problems. While nature can develop some very interesting techniques, it's important to remember that the process is not guided and also has to work with the materials at hand. The common example given is wing-flapping flight. It's not very efficient but modifying limbs to flapping surfaces is about the best you can do. Same goes for terrestrial locomotion. Wheels are awesome but there's only one axle we've ever found in nature and it's on a microscopic organism. Anything bigger than that is pushing itself around with limbs.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849874)

Asimov's robots were nearly all humaniform, and the reason is simple and explained in the stories -- we have a lot of tools that have been designed to fit human hands and feet and eyes and ears. Wheeled robots can't cope with stairs, so legs are the logical choice (although it could be said that three or four might be better than two). Lets see your Roomba clean the stairs! Now, had you a humaniform robot you would have no need for a roomba, as the humaniform robot could operate your existing Hoover, as well as your dishwasher, lawnmower, etc.

At least one Asimov robot wasn't humaniform. The short story "Sally" had vehicles outfitted with positronic brains.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850174)

We all want to own a slave. We all want to be able to say "get me a beer from the fridge" and have something that doesn't look like a fridge do it. Every time. With no back talk.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850220)

Isn't that what woman are for ? ...forgot this is /.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850378)

But why not just build the fridge into the robot? Or perhaps some sort of beer cannon?

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850504)

Carbonated beverages being delivered at velocity? You didn't even try to think that one through, huh?

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

Polumna (1141165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850638)

Your idea has been stolen by the past! [duke.edu]

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (3, Insightful)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850676)

i would not recommend building any kind of cannon into a robot designed to serve us, just in case...

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

Zotdogg (1469295) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850484)

The best answer I've heard to this is that our (human) world\civilization has been built around our bodies and the easiest way to have machines most easily interact with that world is to design them as humanoid objects with as many of the same faculties as possible.

Re:yeah, but why humanoid robots in the first plac (1)

cbs4385 (929248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850986)

A robot that would be use in any random setting or handling various chores would probably be best designed as a humanoid. The tools it would use while preforming the tasks are already designed for us to use. If I want to have a robot to do my chores, I'd rather not have to buy all new tools as well to enable it to do them. And even if I did get specialized accessories to enable the robot to work for me, How the hll am I going to use the lawn mover designed for the spider bot with 4 arms when it breaks?

Woah! (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849518)

Check out the Rack on that Android. Is it a drop in?

Re:Woah! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849586)

Depends what manufacturer made your Android based phone. No I didn't RTFA, why do you ask?

Re:Woah! (2, Funny)

igadget78 (1698420) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849738)

Check out the Rack on that Android. Is it a drop in?

Go Go Gadget Implants.

Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (3, Interesting)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849556)

Many biologists think that dog attack cats and dolphins attack sharks for the reason that the latter of each pairing is too similar to the former of each, that the former might draw the comfort of familiarity until the revulsion of what appears to be an abomination of one's own species at closer inspection -- an "Uncanny Valley in the wild" so to speak. Are dogs and cats friendly once they've become acquainted? Oftentimes. Are sharks and dolphins friendly after becoming acquained in a controlled environment? I'll leave that as an experiment up to the user.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (0, Redundant)

Kemanorel (127835) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849682)

More importantly, will the sharks and dolphins work together once they have frickin' laser beams?

I, for one, welcome our new technologically advanced aquatic overlords. (pssst... Head for the hills!)

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (5, Funny)

mewsenews (251487) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849726)

Are sharks and dolphins friendly after becoming acquained in a controlled environment? I'll leave that as an experiment up to the user.

you owe me 11 replacement dolphins

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849974)

With or without laser beams?

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (1)

jgeiger (1356045) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850094)

Are sharks and dolphins friendly after becoming acquained in a controlled environment? I'll leave that as an experiment up to the user.

you owe me 11 replacement dolphins

you owe me 11 replacement sharks

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (1)

2obvious4u (871996) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850316)

Funny, but I ran the same experiment and you owe me 11 replacement sharks.

As a side note, the squids at them both.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (1)

spottedkangaroo (451692) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849812)

Just who are these "many biologists?" I'd really like to know so I can go read more about that.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (4, Insightful)

Rhacman (1528815) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849896)

I thought dogs just generally chased, attacked, and ate just about anything i.e. squirrels, rabbits, cars, postal employees, spherical objects, non-spherical objects, dirt, rocks... As for sharks, I'm under the impression that their perception of the world can be classified by "to be eaten" and "to be ignored" wheras dolphins are simply reacting to their presence on the former list. That said, I could be swayed if some sources were provided.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849970)

Isn't it much more likely that dogs tend to attack cats because they're convenient? I'm sure if you had other strange animals around the house a dog would be just as likely to be unfriendly towards them.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (4, Funny)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850004)

Careful. Dolphins are highly intelligent and sharks are death with fins. If they *do* become friendly, you're looking at Deep Blue Sea.

(Though the opportunity of Samuel L Jackson being tired of these motherfucking sharks and dolphins on this motherfucking marine biology lab is too good to pass up.)

About dogs... (2, Insightful)

grocer (718489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850222)

Dogs are domesticated wolves...who live and hunt in packs. If the cat is an accepted member of the pack, it will be tolerated by the dog. This is a vast oversimplification, of course, but what it comes down to. Man has selectively bred dogs for specific tasks since domesticating them...so we have dogs for hunting, herding, security, and companionship. Depending on which tasks the dog was bred for will determine whether it's sociable with other pets. Even then, there will be variation between individuals of the same breed and while some breeds are more cat/pet-friendly than others, each dog is still an individual and results will vary. If they dog accepts the cat or cats as part of its pack, there's no problem. If the dog doesn't have a strong prey drive, it may just ignore the cat. Either way, it has nothing to do with the Uncanny Valley.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (2, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850262)

Got a reference for that?

Sharks and dolphins compete for food and a lone dolphin is potential prey for a hungry member of one of the larger shark species.

Ditto with dogs and cats - in the wild they compete for food and are potential prey for each other. Sure the domesticated variety often live happily together... as long as there's plenty of food and living space.

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850630)

Exactly what I was thinking. Dogs attack cats for the same reason lions attack cheetahs. They don't even eat them if they kill them, they just kill them if they can catch them (which isn't often, except for the poor kittens).

Re:Dogs hate cats. Dolphins hate sharks. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 4 years ago | (#30851226)

In the wild it's freqently the other way around. If a wild dog/hyena/etc. is too slow or doesn't belong to a big enough pack, it might just get killed by the kitty. I suppose if a lone wolf was dumb enough to go up against a cougar for a kill it would meet the same end.

Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter (2, Insightful)

avandesande (143899) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849558)

Let's worry about it when robots that fall into this scenario actually exist.

Re:Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter (2, Funny)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849654)

Clearly you did not look at the picture at the top of TFA. That thing is creepy as hell.

So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849598)

Regardless of the uncanny valley, I don't really see the point in making robots humanoid in the first place. There's only a handful of tasks such a machine would be optimal for, and just having a human do it will still be the better choice for quite a while.

Re:So? (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849994)

You realize that quite a while would be forever if we don't start making them before they're perfect? It's called research.

Re:So? (2, Insightful)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850476)

There's only a handful of tasks such a machine would be optimal for

Including replacing most of the service industry.

, and just having a human do it will still be the better choice for quite a while.

I think I'd rather live un-optimally, with a Maidbot 4000.

Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849622)

Whoa sexy robot.

Re:Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30851104)

youre japanese arent you?

Well, it certainly _CAN_ matter. (4, Interesting)

bmajik (96670) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849630)

TFA says that
- it may be more nuanced than people originally thought [i.e. the "absolute level of human-likeness" may not be the problem, but mismatched levels [great skin, awful eyes don't go together and are jarring]
- may have gender bias
- seems to depend on you viewing something remotely in 2d vs interacting with something real in the same room [the latter didn't seem to engender the same creepyness in those tested]

Since I don't live in japan nor do I visit robotics labs, I don't have much occasion to interact with near-humanoid robots. So my UV experiences are limited to movies and video games.

I remember seeing the Final Fantasy: Spirits Within movie in the theater and just minutes into the movie I was convinced I was looking at real humans. Or rather, there was nothing in the film that made me dissociate with the characters; they were as "real" to me as watching actors. I kept trying to "zoom out" of the movie/picture and try to critically evaluate the job they did rendering the characters, but I kept defaulting to treating them as humans and getting sucked back into the movie. Mission accomplished on their part, i guess.

I think the UV effect is definitely apparent in 2D matter -- as a fan of anime I am more inclined to "accept" characters that are absolutely impossible.. both physically and emotionally.. but which do not attempt to persuade me they are more than they are. Yet when video game makers get something slightly wrong it _is_ a jarring experience. I've seen video game cutscenes where there are clearly a lot of polygons and textures and art time involved...but something just seems off and instead of you being wowed [or ideally, _not wowed_] you are left feeling disappointed. You know everyone worked hard to try and make the scene but they absolutely did not pull it off.. and the game experience is worse as a result. Mistakes that land your artwork into the "UV" category turn people into videogame/art critics instead of people enjoying an interactive experience.

Re:Well, it certainly _CAN_ matter. (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850442)

Great points. Go all the way, or go none of the way, but be consistent. That's the only thing that really changes perceptions is when consistency is changed.

Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (3, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849670)

It was the first virtual world which I could see as real, which I didn't have to pretend otherwise because all previous efforts has give-aways that it was fake. It looked goood (and if you sat through the credits, the masses of names hint towards the work needed to make this so) and that's why it's so successful and a breakthrough, imo.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849758)

I don't think Avatar applies in this case because only the aliens were CG. All the significant shots of humans were flesh-and-blood people.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (1)

Drethon (1445051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849902)

Ok how about the Final Fantasy based movie or others that are supposed to be realistic CG movies?

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (1)

twitchingbug (701187) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850180)

FF is an example of the uncanny valley. You could tell that the "humans" in FF were not real - the way they moved, the way their hair moved... it bothered me on some level, which is exactly what the uncanny valley is.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849976)

The movie was pushed back for something like a year getting the alien expressions to reflect human emotions and not look 'strange'.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (3, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850680)

I don't think Avatar applies in this case because only the aliens were CG. All the significant shots of humans were flesh-and-blood people.

And I think importantly the aliens were far enough from humans that the uncanny valley wasn't triggered. Their eyes were semi human, but were different enough that they looked cute, not wierdly almost human. Their skin was blue, so there wasn't any "Something isn't quite right with their skin...OMG THEY'RE DISEASED" response from your brain.

The movements and expressions looked natural because if I've heard correctly, those were basically real movements and expressions, not artificially made. If there were humans who were CGed in Avatar, I'm guessing they required far, far more work and money than the alien sequences.

Maybe if there were a real pandorean and they were to see it, they'd be creeped out as hell by the CG aliens.

Basically, I think Avatar cheated out of the uncanny valley, or at least got off on a technicality.

I remember in the matrix there were a few CG shots of people. There was a reason they were wearing sunglasses at night while kung fu fighting, it wasn't just to try to look cool or make me think of the song, it was also so they wouldn't have to spend a lot of money making the eyes look right.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849988)

It was the first virtual world which I could see as real, which I didn't have to pretend otherwise because all previous efforts has give-aways that it was fake. It looked goood (and if you sat through the credits, the masses of names hint towards the work needed to make this so) and that's why it's so successful and a breakthrough, imo.

No. The reason you didnt feel the uncanny valley was because it wasnt real. It was so far from real that your brain didnt find the twisted smurf creatures disturbing.

I'm also pissed off (as a phd in graphics research) that everyone thinks its breakthrough. Gollum in LOTR was a breakthrough, theres no new tech in this movie. James Cameron needs to stop saying how he invented mocap, its stupid. You'll find that most of the amazing "breakthroughs" of the last decade you didnt actually notice because the CG was perfect and more importantly subtle.

If you create an entirely made up world you can put anything in it and have it "fit", because you have accepted the fantasy.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850642)

The reason you didnt feel the uncanny valley was because it wasnt real. It was so far from real that your brain didnt find the twisted smurf creatures disturbing.

There were plenty of humans in the film too, so that point is moot. However, the blue people were definitely more lifelike than gollum in my eyes.

I do consider Avatar a breakthrough. I don't know whether it really was in huge step in any particular technical aspect, or whether the whole just surpassed some threshold, but the realism of everything combined with (and especially) 3d made it a breakthrough experience for me.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (2, Insightful)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850010)

Perhaps there would be an uncanny valley if you knew what a ten-foot blue alien was supposed to look like.

rj

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (2, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850158)

One weird thing about Avatar, I felt the same way as you, but when I remembered back to the movie, in my mind the live action scenes were remembered as cartoons. That seemed really weird to me, but I mentioned it to my brother and he said the same thing happened to him. I am not sure if this is my brain's reaction to knowing the whole thing can't be real, and being confused by it, or what. Either way the graphics were impressive enough that my brain was very confused by it.

Re:Avatar was a step out of uncanny valley (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850668)

It was the first virtual world which I could see as real

Actually, the only phony two-dimensional portrayals in that film were Corporate Goons (tm) and the Evil U.S. Marines->Mercenaries (tm). I felt more of a credibility gulf between me and those characters than I did between me and the blue dudes.

when lewis and clark (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849710)

went on their famous expedition, there was a black guy in their group, york

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_(explorer) [wikipedia.org]

the native americans would stand in slack jaw amazement at york, as if he were possessed of magic. they never saw a black man before. york would further dumbfound them by taking out and reinserting his false teeth

meanwhile, consider the cantina scene in star wars: aliens of extreme forms, and humans mingling in with them as if no big deal

both the cantina scene and york's experience are the truth: our amazement at first is profound and very real at seeing new ethnicities/ life forms. but it also wears off very quick

we can get used to interacting with anything. the uncanny valley is real, but its also very temporary

Re:when lewis and clark (3, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849828)

Reminds me of a story my English teacher told the class in high school. He is 6'6" tall and spent some time in China after college. He told us that, even though there were other Anglos here and there, everywhere he went there would eventually be a crowd surrounding him and gawking at his height. I imagine it was the same phenomenon he are speaking of: unfamiliarity adds either novelty or revulsion....but once something is familiar it is (eventually) accepted.

Re:when lewis and clark (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850390)

So, you suppose Yao Ming was gawked at as much, or less, or more since he's taller, when he was in China?

Re:when lewis and clark (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850808)

I'd guess more, since Yao Ming is a worldwide superstar and renowned throughout China. (Check out Year of the Yao [imdb.com] sometime.)

The difference is, Yao Ming never became commonplace because there's only one of him. "Uncanny" robots could be manufactured by the millions and hence become commonplace, if there is ever a reason to do so.

My guess is lots of companies will make robots that creep everybody out. Then eventually Apple will release something that's weird but in a cool way, and people will start dressing up like it at halloween.

Re:when lewis and clark (2, Interesting)

SinGunner (911891) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850740)

I'm white and speak Japanese without an accent (Dave Specter has me beat on vocabulary, but he sounds horrible). I get the same initial shock when I open my mouth. If they're under 15, they just tend to stare for a minute. After a couple sentences, most people calm down and everything is normal. However, when I leave I often hear whispered comments about how much of a shock the experience was.

Re:when lewis and clark (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850924)

Yeah me too...I'm a pudgy guy of Irish descent (i.e. pasty white skin) who speaks Arabic. You should see the look on the faces of Muslims I meet at the mall when I strike up a conversation with them.

"Deliberately seeks out the uncanny" (1)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849724)

The article says that one of the designers "deliberately seeks out the uncanny" by making his robots buzz and click, by making them incomplete.

What this is doing is keeping them firmly on the "cartoon" side of any such valley. If it exists or not, robots that are deliberately avoiding it aren't evidence one way or the other.

Re:"Deliberately seeks out the uncanny" (1)

Razalhague (1497249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849986)

Exactly. The author simply doesn't seem to know where the uncanny valley is. He uses three examples: CB2 [youtube.com] , KOBIAN [youtube.com] , and Nexi [youtube.com] . Of these, KOBIAN and Nexi are clearly on the cartoony side of the valley, and CB2 (at least to me) is already climbing out of the valley onto the the other side.

Re:"Deliberately seeks out the uncanny" (1)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850980)

I am glad I was not the only one left with the impression that the author has no idea what he is talking about. Personally, I found nothing uncanny about KOBIAN or Nexi but found CB2 pretty creepy. As you stated, the first two are clearly on the cartoon side and I put CB2 right down in the valley.

Not yet in the valley.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30849774)

Uncanny valley may not be real, or be more a problem for CGI than real-life...but the examples proposed are not enough to prove this, or disprove it: All the robots are still clearly too far within the not-human region to enter the uncanny valley imho.
Uncanny is something that try to pass for human and may be successful, from far away, if you do not pay attention, in bad light. Not the case here, far from it....

Those are like dolls, and non-scary ones (some dolls are more deep in the uncanny than those robots).

Of the 3 examples, I feel only the baby-robot start to look like he can enter the valley - mainly because of it's too-large rubber skin. The first one looks like a real-life attempt to recreate the hero from "robots" (the animation from 2005), and the MIT one looks like industrial design from apple 3 years ago...

Author missing the point? (4, Insightful)

PylonHead (61401) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849780)

Wasn't impressed with the article.

He calls the Uncanny Valley "a groundless thought experiment", when it's really a simple description of a phenomenon that I (and presumably many other people) have experienced.

He goes on to say that people aren't frightened by humanoid robots. My experience with the uncanny has never frightened me. It's more of a vague repulsion and an emotional disinterest.

He then goes on to talk about a series of robots that aren't nearly human-like enough to trigger the uncanny valley phenomenon. Honestly the phenomenon seems much more relevant to the computer graphics world than it does to robotics at this moment in time.

Re:Author missing the point? (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849952)

It's more of a vague repulsion and an emotional disinterest.

I guess it will rapidly fade when those kinds of robots are common, and we get used to them.

Re:Author missing the point? (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850012)

He then goes on to talk about a series of robots that aren't nearly human-like enough to trigger the uncanny valley phenomenon.

Absolutely: animations are quite capable of entering the uncanny valley, but real 3D physical objects aren't yet close.

When they do get a humanoid robot close enough to be uncanny, though, I suspect it's going to be very unnerving.

2 Words: Doll F**kers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850146)

No, I have a suspicion that the author is trying to make having uh, romantic relations with robots socially acceptable. Also, don't Google Doll Fuckers you sick perverts!

Uncanny valley exists, and does matter, so there. (3, Informative)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849796)

What I said in the Popular Mechanics comments:

Apparently in all his research on the Uncanny Valley the author missed or ignored the oft-remarked reason why the phenomenon *is* important: robots are expensive, and if people don't like them in their *first* impression, it's not worth the cost. 'Social' robots are not going to be seen in homes first, that's too expensive. The first market for social robots will be in some form of customer relations where replacing hourly employees makes business sense, but NOT if that means customers leave for whoever still has real people.

So yes, people can adapt to robots, duh, we're rational animals. However, if somebody is expecting a person, they get a robot, *and* they feel uncomfortable about it, even for a few minutes, that might be enough of a catalyst to consciously OR unconsciously cause them to look for services not provided by robots, ultimately damaging the company that bought the robot to fill the role.

Also, you allude to studies that show that the uncanny valley may not be 'real' for women but may be so for men. After all, Mori himself was male, maybe he what he thought applied to everybody only applied to his male experience. That doesn't mean the uncanny valley doesn't exist, it just means it isn't within the parameters originally believed to be understood. Basically by citing the study, you admit that it has been scientifically shown to exist, just in a more limited sense. Hardly discrediting.

Re:Uncanny valley exists, and does matter, so ther (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850120)

This seems somewhat familiar:

"Press or say one if you hate calling this number because you can never talk to another human being when calling"

Re:Uncanny valley exists, and does matter, so ther (1)

pnuema (523776) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850482)

The first market for social robots will be in some form of customer relations where replacing hourly employees makes business sense

The first market for social robots will be fuckbots. You must be new here.

Re:Uncanny valley exists, and does matter, so ther (2, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850794)

Human contact has been replaced by machines lots of places like bank clerks who has been almost fully replaced by online banking and cash machines, or how about ticket machines or vending machines? I have a dishwasher and washing machine, none of those are built the way I'd wash dishes or do laundry. The point is not that machines suck at being useful, it's that they suck at being humans. I'd rather in fact not have a clippy interface to my machine if I can help it. Why does everyone seem to think a humanoid robot would be such a great solution? Would you like to piggyback on a humanoid robot to work every day? Do you honestly think it's good design to command a robot to use a remote control to tune your TV when you could command the TV to tune itself?

Don't get me wrong, eventually we will need some sort of general robot but my home could be a lot more intelligent than it is. There's no universal "bus" that things expose themselves to, and I don't mean building a special house full of special tools that are all built to work together. I mean something that'll be pretty much as basic as electricity and everything announces itself and lets me turn on and off lamps, turn up and down the heating, tune the TV, monitor the oven (maybe not set that one), check the status of my washing machine all in one dashboard right here, without getting my ass off the chair. That would at least be a start...

Oh it matters all right... (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 4 years ago | (#30849834)

Which would you rather talk to on the phone? Horrible robot voice or Real live human voice?

Now imagine instead of just the voice it's the whole face, body, movement, etc. NO THANKS.

It's odd though, I think I could somehow handle talking to "Robbie the Robot" better than I could these creepy rubber dolls (like the one in TFA). Creepy as hell.

Re:Oh it matters all right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850102)

What I normally get on the phone is a horrible human voice -- someone who speaks bad English with a strong accent over a noisy VOIP link.

I'd prefer a horrible robot voice with a standard accent generated close enough to me that the connection is good quality.

Who else doesn't care? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850042)

Am I the only person that has never been bothered by this "uncanny valley"? So it looks sort of like a person but doesn't actually. So what? That has never disturbed me. I've never understood why things that look almost but not quite human bother people.

It matters, but we adjust (1, Insightful)

DutchUncle (826473) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850084)

Somehow nobody has trouble dealing with the Muppets, or the Henson-created aliens on Farscape; even little children deal with them, and my non-techie mother-in-law thinks my wife's Rygel doll is "cute". (Well, maybe it looks better than Rygel did; point is she doesn't say "it's a squishy frog".) Somehow the folks at Pixar manage to make an architect's lamp behave enough to make people think of it as a creature. Humans can accept a *lot*.

Re:It matters, but we adjust (2, Insightful)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850762)

You kind of misunderstand the phenomena. The reason all the things you listed are easy-to-take is that they don't even look remotely close to humans.

The uncanny valley refers to the emotional detachment towards CGI creations that look and behave *almost* (but not exactly) like real people. A good example would be the recent CGI Beowulf movie, or another poster mentioned Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within from a few years ago.

The theory is that the less human a creature looks/acts, the more we can accept it. Pilot or Rigel from Farscape don't look human at all, for example. As the creature approaches realism, the viewer will have more and more trouble accepting them. Once your simulation is sufficiently complete, then you accept them as you would an actual human actor. That's why porcelain dolls are so creepy.

So you take Rigel, easy to accept. The humans in Beowulf, much less so. Some would argue that the aliens in Avatar are close enough to human that people accept them without any problems, which partially explains why the film has been so successful.

Re:It matters, but we adjust (1)

JWW (79176) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850826)

With respect to Pixar. What I always find really interesting is that Pixar can make things in their movies extremely accurate, but to date they always impart some sort of cartoon quality to all their human characters. This is especially noticeable in Up and in the Incredibles, their two movies that focus almost exclusively on purely human characters. All the characters in the Incredibles have a comic book quality to them, and all the characters in Up have exaggerated features, nose, ears, etc.

I think Pixar knows the uncanny valley exists for them and tries very very hard to stay away from it.

Perhaps they learned from their short film "Tin Toy" which featured a CGI baby that tried to be accurate and was amazingly disturbing to watch. I think that short convinced them to consistently and actively try to avoid uncanny valley.

Re:It matters, but we adjust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30850998)

Yes, because none of those things you listed are in the valley for the very reason they don't look like humans. We can easily project human qualities and associate with objects that exhibit human-like behaviour. The valley kicks in when something acts and looks like a human, but isn't QUITE right. Maybe the skin texture is wrong, the eyes look glazed, or the movements are slightly too jerky or even too smooth. Of course, we can eventually adapt to that, too, but it requires more mental effort (even if it's unconscious) than relating to Pixar's Luxo.

Distance... (1)

PPalmgren (1009823) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850086)

Very thought-provoking article, especially since I'd experienced the Uncanny Valley but had never been exposed to the topic like this. I wonder if the concept is related to how people act in cases on anonymity or distance with other humans, such as the Internet, politics, and war. When I read the article, I felt echoes from these categories where we, as humans, have a tendency to de-humanize or treat our opposition differently than we would if we interacted with them directly.

I thought the lady in the Palm Pre ads was CGI (1)

GungaDan (195739) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850110)

Much to my surprise, she's real. Uncanny.

Uncanny valley will be crossed both ways (2, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850124)

It's a problem that's culture-wide but is already going away. Twenty years ago people refused to use automated answering machines. Now many people prefer doing all their business via automated customer support precisely because they don't have to talk to people. As our culture as a whole gets used to automated systems, we'll stop being freaked.

And, anyway, robot technology is improving every year, and as such they're doing their best to cross the uncanny valley and getting better all the time. Meanwhile, on this side, we're doing our best to cross to their side, led by Michael Jackson, Cher, Tila Tequila, and Jocelyn Wildenstein.

Re:Uncanny valley will be crossed both ways (2, Informative)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850250)

Find me a person that prefers automated customer support so I can punch them repeatedly in the face.

Speaking as a technician who has had to call support lines for RMAs or service outages... automated parts of support are annoying as hell, especially when you're expected to talk to the computer like that's supposed to make it more familiar or comfortable. Even when the system understands, which is hard enough, you still feel like a jackass doing it when you could just be pressing a number.

Re:Uncanny valley will be crossed both ways (1)

winwar (114053) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850542)

"Even when the system understands, which is hard enough, you still feel like a jackass doing it when you could just be pressing a number."

Feel free to start punching yourself now. Use a mirror if it makes you feel better.

You dislike voice autmomated systems. Not automated systems. Better would be humans capable of solving your problems. But most people prefer automated customer support because human customer support has been reduced to a sequence of scripts. At that point why waste time dealing with a human.

Re:Uncanny valley will be crossed both ways (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850656)

I dislike them both, just voice-based more (which is what I said, but you chose to ignore that). Not everything is an exclusive binary system. Nice try at being cute though, next time read and comprehend the whole thing and you won't look like a douche.

Key take home point: if I'm dealing with a computer, I want to deal with it like a computer, not pretending it's human. I would rather in cases of complex problem solving (which in the context means anything other than basic inventory operations and queries of known/categorized things) deal with a human than a computer. Even a stupid human is somebody you can apply emotional pressure to, or try to reason with, or whatever. Those things you can't do with a computer.

Re:Uncanny valley will be crossed both ways (1)

Sir Holo (531007) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850746)

smellsofbikes: Twenty years ago people refused to use automated answering machines. Now many people prefer doing all their business via automated customer support precisely because they don't have to talk to people.

You sound like you work for TellMe.

Most people hate automated response systems because they take forever to get things done. No one really needs to be told how to operate voice mail every time.

Oh, and people have been happily using answering machines for at least 35 years.

evolved communication protocols (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850182)

I think a key problem here is simply that humanity has evolved elaborate behaviors and telltales for communication even without intent. For example, in a store there are distinct differences in the behavior of someone looking for something versus someone walking purposefully to a destination. Irritation is easily transmitted. What this means is that for the typical human, there are limits to how well they can deceive another human. I think that's one of the causes of the uncanny valley. If you're in the valley, then the behavioral cues either cannot be interpreted or even worse are merely a skin that can be readily changed.

Violations of these behaviors and evolved protocols can really upset us. For example, a scene in Terminator II shows the evil robot of the movie (which can take anyone's form that it kills) has earlier (unknown to the audience) taken over the form of a woman talking on the phone to her son. The audience senses something is wrong, the dog is barking hectically outside and the woman is trying suspiciously to milk the son for information on his location. She gets the name of the dog wrong. It's only then that we know she's the killer robot. Right after the call ends, we find the robot also killed the husband of the woman while casually talking on the phone. Think about that. Someone who can chat on the phone without even a trace of emotion or extertion while killing a person at the same time. Bladerunner explores this to great extent (the opening scene is a great example). Silence of the Lambs is in part about a hideous serial killer who shows no remorse and reveals of himself only what he wishes.

We are scared of people who can lie and kill without the deed showing in their behavior and that fear is readily milked in many movies about murderous robots and calm psychopaths. I believe this is part of the uncanny valley. We've evolved over time to share a common nonverbal system of communication. Anything which can exploit this system, be it beings that don't look quite right or can deceive us completely and effortlessly, triggers a warning in us.

Re:evolved communication protocols (2, Insightful)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850838)

I've been told that the reason people (often) fear snakes and clowns is that they cannot read any emotion from their expressions. I think a robot would have to be amazingly nuanced and advanced for people to accept its body language as human.

Re:evolved communication protocols (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30851128)

We are scared of people who can lie and kill without the deed showing in their behavior and that fear is readily milked in many movies about murderous robots and calm psychopaths. I believe this is part of the uncanny valley. We've evolved over time to share a common nonverbal system of communication. Anything which can exploit this system, be it beings that don't look quite right or can deceive us completely and effortlessly, triggers a warning in us.

Back when it was a standard part of anatomy coursework, I had to stand in on a human dissection. This is apparently not done anymore because it's gotten too expensive and most folks just can't deal with it.

During this dissection half the class did not attend. Within the first minute, three more had left. A few minutes later it was just four of us and the instructor. What struck me about this experience was that I felt absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Whereas my classmates were going on about how viewing the body gave them the willies, it caused as much reaction in me as watching a top spinning. I.e., it's interesting at first , but beyond that, really boring.

The thing is, though I wouldn't kill anyone, I don't feel anything when I hear about death. If someone committed a heinous crime, I can't understand why they are not executed immediately once their guilt is confirmed. I don't know if this makes me a psychopath, but that's how I am.

Why? (2, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30850914)

Humanoid robots terrify me to no end. At first, I was simply bothered by the fact that people were trying to develop this technology. I couldn't understand what new functionality they were trying to develop, and I didn't see why they would simply try to duplicate the existing functionality of human beings (since there are already billions of us around).

Now that I've thought about it, I think the new "functionality" they want to add is compliance. They want to say to something, resembling a person, "do this" and have them do it without talking back. Basically, they want someone to serve them without ever having to consider that person's needs or feelings. They want someone to go and take car of their mother or their children for them, so that they don't have to. They want someone who will have sex with them for no reason other than their desire for sex.

So some day, the hope is, we will be surrounded by human-looking robots who will cater to our every whim and never give us any trouble. I don't think that's good for us, and I question the mental stability of someone who would want to live that way.

WRONG! It does matter! (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30851174)

Stuff looks really creepy because of the uncanny valley.
I do not want to buy stuff that looks really creepy, when I do not expect it to be. (Exception: Horror games/movies.)
I assume that this is true for nearly everybody.
If people don’t buy it, there is no profit in it.
If there is no profit in something, no company will produce it.

There’s how it matters.
Simple as that.

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