10 Creepy Examples of the Uncanny Valley

By on November 25, 2013 // Science // 32 Comments

Image: Creepy Girl
Image: Creepy Girl

Originally coined by Masahiro Mori in 1970, the term “uncanny valley” describes our strange revulsion toward things that appear nearly human, but not quite right. This revulsion usually involves robots, but can also include computer animations and some medical conditions.

One theory is that our experience with the uncanny valley (the “valley” being the “region of negative emotional response” in the chart over there) stems from an evolutionary tendency to be repulsed by anyone who looks sick or unhealthy or wrong. In other words, “pathogen avoidance.”

Another is that the uncanny valley, particularly in regards to humanoid robots, triggers an innate fear of death, as they often seem to move like lifeless puppets, reminding us of our own mortality.

We’re still not sure, though. Here are 10 examples of the uncanny valley in action, so take a look for yourself. Do these images and videos make you feel…unsettled?

CB2 Child Robot

Yes, CB2, the child robot with the biomimetic body. Body of a child. Lifeless, dead eyes. This is how the robot apocalypse is born, folks.

cb2-child-robot

Image: YouTube

Medal of Honor: Warfighter Cutscenes

Some people don’t find the cutscenes in Medal of Honor: Warfighter all that creepy, and I have to admit that they’re technically impressive. But the animation seems to take these computer-generated characters one step too far into the Twilight Zone.

medal-of-honor-uncanny-valley2

Image: YouTube/Medal of Honor: Warfighter

Jules A.I.

“Will I dream when I’m turned off?” he asks, guaranteeing that you’ll have nightmares for at least the next week.

jules-uncanny-valley

Image: YouTube

Showa Hanako

Now let’s take a moment to combine two of my favorite things: soulless robots and dental instruments. Because everyone enjoys the sound of a dentist’s drill.

showa-hanako

Image: YouTube

Tin Toy

tintoy-uncanny-baby

Image: Pixar’s Tin Toy

When Pixar screen-tested their animated short Tin Toy, they were surprised to find out that audiences didn’t react positively to the film’s human baby, Billy. Maybe it’s because he has a beak.

Katy the Fembot

Is this creepy? I don’t know. It’s Katy the Fembot from The Bionic Woman. I mean, this looks frightening. Perhaps because it triggers the idea that we, too, are just machines on the inside, destined for a purpose we’ll never fully understand.

Tara the Android

Maybe I talk about Tara the Android too much. I think it’s the mystery behind the whole thing, though. What’s going on? Why are the windows covered in black? Why do I find the Fantastic hey hey hey song so catchy? Well, here’s a compilation of her greatest hits.

tara-the-android

Image: YouTube

Saya, the Reception Robot

This, uh, “lifelike” reception robot comes equipped with 27 artificial face muscles, which allow it to reach new heights in horrifying uncanniness.

reception-robot

Image: YouTube

Creepy Girl

This is one you can actually interact with yourself, if you just head over here. It’s lifelike(ish) and interesting, but creepy. No, really, check it out. I dare you.

Telenoid R1 Bot

The Telenoid R1 bot is, from what I’ve read, supposed to be a “minimalist human.” I’m not sure what that means, but I suppose removing the arms, legs, and body hair of a human being and sticking it on a tripod is a kind of minimalism.

telenoid-creepy

Image: YouTube

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. I guess I should add that it’s entirely possible you won’t find any of the above examples creepy at all. And even if you do, that may just be because they’re creepy, and not because of something like the uncanny valley. I mean, just look at Casper the Friendly Ghost up there. It’s terrifying.

The uncanny valley, after all, is just a hypothesis, and some people don’t even agree that it exists.

What do you think?

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About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.
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  • Hahahaha, I loved these.

    The uncanny valley is always the stuff of nightmares.

  • Evergreen

    Creepy Girl is exactly that-forget the Zombies-these things are the ones to be very, very afraid of. And Jules terrified me by the way.

    • smeezekitty

      Of all of them, I found that to be the LEAST creepy

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  • Gabrielle

    Fascinating, yet terrifying. I’m just waiting for I, Robot to become a reality.

  • gvftrc

    SO CREEPY, PERFECT EXAMPLES OF THE UNCANNY VALLEY, I FREAKED ALL MY FRIENDS OUT

  • someone

    these exaples suck

  • this1guy

    so does your spelling, theyre not that bad

  • Matthew Villani

    IMO only a couple of these were true uncanny valley. The majority were either on the robot side with other animatronics or the very close to human side like the bunraku puppets.

  • timrprobocom

    Short correction: the baby has a “biomimetic body”, not a “biometric body”.

    • Rob

      Good catch. Thanks for the correction.

  • stranger_than_fiction

    thats not for dental training. DONT LIE

    • Planet Concourse

      That is hilarious!

  • Katie Ridenour

    Imma just go ahead and blame Japan for this. Yikes. Hahaha!

  • SnookyTLC

    The dancing baby video from the ’90s was the most uncanny valley for me. God, I hated that thing with a passion!

    • Chris

      I feel the same way. I know it’s probably reaching but movies like Happy Feet creep me out for the same reason… It’s all fine when it’s an obviously cartoon/cgi animal talking, but if they look realistic in any way it’s just straight up creepy!

  • sogwa

    Most of these r PURE NIGHTMARE material….along with the creepy realsitic animation of The Polar Express

  • Brent

    Let’s not forget iRobot. That was horribly unsettling.

  • theCinnamonLord

    Am I the only one that doesn’t find it odd or creepy. It is actually cool to see how robotics have come.

    • MrRedwood

      No, you aren’t the only one. All your replicant buddies also think it’s cool.

  • Blake Okafor

    Not trying to sound like an internet tough guy, but am I the only one who’s not scared buy examples of the uncanny valley? If anything I find such animations and robotics impressive.

    I don’t really find it all that creepy, just off looking, like one step below a person with severe down syndrome.

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  • Corpsey

    The only thing I found creepy about some of these was the way they’d move their limbs. Other than that its not really that frightening.

  • Je He

    Why are Creepy Girl’s eyes bloodshot?! Creepy, indeed.

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  • Tommy Maq

    I remember having nightmares about Fembots when I was watching that show as a kid c.1977

  • Johnny

    Flat out terrifying

  • Joel Spealman

    What is the effect where humans feel the robot population has become too similar to the human and is now, ubiquitous. So, people do not know if they are interacting with a robot or a human? Except for copulation how would you know?

  • There’s one thing I do not understand about the Uncanny Valley: Why is there none when it comes to masked actors? The above almost humanlike robots and animations are creepy but an as almost humanlike Klingon is sexy? Even an actor pretending to be a robot (like the Swedish hubots) do not evoke a feeling of uncanniness.

  • Indianna Jones

    I’ve always found these things to be cool rather than creepy. I seem to be in the minority. Still, enjoyed the article. 🙂

  • teenygozer

    “Some people” referred to in the second to last sentence are either being disingenuous or they’re just plain wrong.

  • Walter Stein

    Woa, they are supercreepy. The most creepy ones I think are the Dentist one, the singing corpse one and the recepntion one. They are ready to give me nightmares. Baaa.