Uncanny Valley

We’re increasingly interacting with machines that masquerade as humans, either as an online chatbot, voice activated tools (Siri, Alexa and friends), and just occasionally as robots. As long as the machine is obviously a machine we’re comfortable interacting with it, and we’ll make allowances for its robot brain.

As our ability to use high levels of artificial intelligence delivers more human-like machines it will become harder to determine whether a machine is a machine based on the interaction.  When the machine starts to imitate a human well we’ll interact as long as we see the human.

The “Uncanny Valley” describes the feeling of being disturbed by interacting  and having the realisation that the machine isn’t as human as we’d thought. Or, conversely, knowing that we’re interacting with a robot but finding the speech, look and movements terribly life-like. It’s that moment when you think “oh, creepy”.  The term was created more than forty years ago by Robotics Professor Masahiro Mori.

As the robots become more human like this effect will, in theory, disappear. After all if we can’t distinguish the machine as a machine then we won’t have the discomfort. We still have some way to go but robotics engineers and AI programmers are getting us closer. Take a look at SAYA, the reception robot created by the Koboyashi Laboratory at Tokyo University of Science. Note this is from 2009, so I’m sure there have been advance in design and interaction since then, in the meantime SAYA seems uncanny to me.

Image:  Templum Ex Obscurum  |  Narshe Talbot |  CC BY2.0

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