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. 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.
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.
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.
Japanese engineers at Kokoro revealed their Actroid-F telepresence robot back in 2010. It was intended to replace screens and smartphones during those long-distance calls, instead acting as a physical robotic presence that would mimic the facial expressions and movements of the person you’re talking to. The robot was controlled via webcam.
What gets me with this one is right around 2:41 in the video. The robots are sitting there in the background, moving slightly, as a human would. At first glance, and if you didn’t know any better, you might even think they’re just ordinary people sitting there.
But they’re not.
5. 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. Sophia, the Robot Who’d Like to Destroy All Humans
Sophia rides that line between uncanny and mildly passable, as far as robotic humans go. Designed by Hanson Robotics, Sophia has gained quite a bit of media attention over the years, particularly in regards to human-robot relations. In 2017, she made headlines for becoming the first robot to be granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Her face is able to express emotions, she speaks with a synthesized voice.
And oh, yeah, during an interview at SXSW, she once agreed to destroy all humans.
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, just watch the video here and contemplate how your entire life has led up to this very moment.
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.
9. Creepy Girl
This is one you used to be able to interact with yourself (unfortunately, the Creepy Girl page appears to have been taken down, but we’ll always have our creepy memories). By guiding your cursor across the screen, the uncanny girl would follow it with her eyes, leading to some extremely weird effects.
Creepy Girl’s lifelike(ish) and interesting. But as her name implies, she’s also very creepy.
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.
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?