10 Creepy Examples of the Uncanny Valley

Posted by on November 25, 2013 ⋰ 53 Comments
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.

A graph of the uncanny valley, according to Masahiro Mori
Image: Wikipedia/Smurrayinchester via CC by SA 3.0

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. Do these images and videos make you feel…unsettled?

Here are 10 examples of the uncanny valley in action, so take a look for yourself. 

1. 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.

The CB2 Child Robot looks into its creator's eyes
Image: YouTube

2. 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.

The characters in MoH look realistic, and yet...not
Image: YouTube/Medal of Honor: Warfighter

3. 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.

An image of the Jules robot
Image: YouTube

4. 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 opens her mouth
Image: YouTube

5. Tin Toy

The baby from Tin Toy and its beak
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.

6. Katy the Fembot

Katy the Fembot loses her face, showing the circuitry beneath her synthetic skin
Image: Fembot Wiki/The Bionic Woman

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.

7. 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 sings a song
Image: YouTube

8. 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.

The reception robot has makeup and lifeless eyes
Image: YouTube

9. Creepy Girl

Creepy Girl looks into your soul
Image: 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.

10. 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.

The Telenoid rests on its harness, without arms, without legs
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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Post by Rob Schwarz

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.

Comments

53 Replies to “10 Creepy Examples of the Uncanny Valley”

  1. OK admit it guys. Dental Training Android was not the first thought to cross your minds upon seeing that thing.

  2. Hi Rob, I’m publishing a paper on the uncanny valley. I’m very interested in including the “creepy girl” image on it. Do you know if it is free or there is some copyright? Thanks.

    1. Hey Antonio,

      That’s just a screengrab from their website, which in the case of this particular post should fall under fair use (as this post is referencing/commenting on the image itself).

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

      As far as using it in a paper, I’m honestly not sure. You may want to contact that website’s owner first, just in case. (Unfortunately, it looks like the website might be down right now.)

      1. Hi Rob, thanks for your help. Do you know how can I contact the website’s owner? Sorry for the inconvenience. Best, Antonio.

      2. Sorry for taking so long to respond here.

        I checked their page again and apparently it’s still down (might just be that specific page, though), so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

        You could try searching their domain at domaintools and see if any contact info is listed. Other than that, I’m not sure, sorry.

        http://whois.domaintools.com/

  3. The movie Polar Express. Uncanny Valley from beginning to end. With a million creepy looking seemingly gay elves at the end.

  4. Honestly, I found almost all of them rather creepy, with the MOH “creepy wives” the creepiest, lending credence to the “uncanny valley” theory, since it was also the most realistic – for a moment, when I first saw it, I thought it was real actors until they started to move and interact with each other which creeped me out so much I had to stop watching. Ditto with CB2 – they made lots of progress on the somatic motions but the eyes were like from a horror movie.

    It would be interesting to run an experiment with neurotypical and asperger subjects. My guess is the neurotypicals would find the simulated people creepier because they are more tuned-in to how real humans behave at a subtle level. Our (tech) industry has lots of aspies working in it, which may explain why/how they keep coming out with these creatures and don’t understand what the rest of us find creepy about the way they look or move.

  5. 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.

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

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

  8. 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.

    1. If I had to venture a guess, it would be that it is because humans make thousands of micro-adjustments every minute, even while resting. Being used to them, you don’t notice them, but when they are missing, you subconsciously notice that about the robots, and find it creepy. Human posture, resting position, and the multitude of small adjustments are all things you pick up but ignore, even in masked actors, but they are all also hard to reproduce synthetically to the point that it seams natural.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. What, you don’t think people with dentures can bite?

        Seriously, of course the teeth are removable. Since the dummy is supposed to be for training dentists, it would have multiple sets of practice teeth for the students to work on.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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