Science

10 Creepy Examples of the Uncanny Valley

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.

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.

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.

4. Actroid-F

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

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. 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.

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.

9. Creepy Girl

Creepy Girl looks into your soul
Image: 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.

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?

Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. For nearly 10 years, he's managed Stranger Dimensions, providing a unique perspective on all matters involving time travel, parallel universes, and whether or not robots might one day take over the world.

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37 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

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

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

  8. 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. 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.

  10. I dislike Saya because of the skin and wobbliness. That makes it seem damaged, diseased or otherwise infirm. It triggers the same reflexive concern I would feel for a human who had waxy skin and erratic, wobbly motions.
    Also that is a really bad color of lipstick for it.

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