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