Androids, avatars, and animations that seek for maximal realism slip into a disconcerting abyss known as the uncanny valley. They are incredibly realistic and lifelike, but they are not quite human upon closer inspection. When a robotic or animated image fall within this “valley,” individuals tend to feel unease, strangeness, revulsion, or creepiness.
The uncanny valley describes the relationship between the human-like appearance of a robot and the emotional response it produces. In this phenomenon, humans experience apprehension or hatred in response to realistic humanoid robots.
You have probably felt this when watching a CGI-animated film or playing a computer game. The animated human may appear nearly lifelike, yet the little difference between “almost human” and “truly human” causes discomfort or repulsion.
The effects of this phenomenon extend to robotics and artificial intelligence.
Where the Uncanny Valley originated
In a 1970 essay, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori named and described the phenomena for the first time. Mori named the phenomena bikini no Tani gene, which translates to “valley of eeriness. Jasia Reichardt first invented the term “uncanny valley” in her 1978 book “Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction.”
Mori observed in his study that people find his robots more appealing if they appear more human. People found his robots more alluring as they became more human-like, but this only worked to a certain extent.
When robots resemble humans but are not quite human, people tend to feel uneasy or even repulsed. Individuals feel uneasy, agitated, and sometimes fearful when the uncanny valley is reached.
In his landmark study on the subject, Mori noted, “I have observed that as we progress toward the aim of making robots resemble humans, our affinity for them grows until we reach a valley, which I name the uncanny valley.”
Mori used various examples to demonstrate this principle. Industrial robots bear little resemblance to humans and elicit minimal empathy from onlookers. In contrast, a toy robot has a human-like appearance and is more appealing in general. A prosthetic hand, he remarked, tends to reside in this uncanny valley, as it can be extremely lifelike yet also induce sensations of discomfort.
Examples of Uncanny Valley
The uncanny valley has been seen with robots and video game characters that look and act very realistically. Movie’s feature some of the most well-known examples of the uncanny valley. Among these are: Final Fantasy When it came out in 2001, The Spirits Within had some of the most realistic CGI animation ever made. CGI animation produced. Despite efforts to make the animated figures look extremely lifelike, the film proved unsuccessful. The failure of the movie at the box office is sometimes ascribed to the uncanny valley. People were unwilling to watch the film because they found the animation frightening.
The character of Princess Fiona in early test screenings of the film Shrek generated incredible sensations of dread in children. She was too realistic, prompting children to feel uneasy and even terrified, with many weeping anytime she appeared on-screen.
In order to avoid the uncanny valley effect, the filmmakers tweaked her appearance before to the film’s premiere to make her appear more cartoonish.
Cats, the 2019 film adaption, featured felines with humanoid features that many individuals found unnerving. While some individuals allegedly found the result amusing, others reportedly felt utterly repulsed. On social media, numerous spectators referred to the video as bizarre, eerie, and even nightmare-inducing.
The film’s reliance on motion may also have influenced the audience’s response. Mori has suggested that motion can exacerbate the uncanny valley effect. In this case, the film features human-like and cat-like movements that further confound the spectator.
In these instances, resemblance to humans does not result in spectator identification with the characters. When characters descend into the uncanny valley, they are perceived as cold, soulless, and void of emotion.
What causes the effect of the uncanny valley?
Numerous hypotheses have been advanced to explain why people feel the uncanny valley effect, but no consensus has arisen. Some ideas propose biological causes for the occurrence, while others also propose cultural explanations. The things listed below could play a role.
According to a 2016 study, the feeling of being “creeped out” is frequently produced by a sense of ambiguity. When we observe objects that are almost human but not quite, we experience an unpleasant tension.
In movies, such effects are occasionally used to heighten the dread or creepiness. To shock spectators, horror films frequently imbue non-human things with human traits, like dolls (Annabelle) and clowns (It).
Additionally, research has demonstrated that people are typically bothered by the combination of things that do not generally occur together. People are not afraid of robots with “robot” sounds or people with human voices, but they are afraid of robots with human voices, according to a 2011 study.
This impact applies not only to robots but also to computer-animated depictions of humans and animals.
People are good at identifying even the smallest discrepancies in a robotic or animated humanoid, even in very realistic renderings. Even extremely tiny deviations can transform a figure from lifelike to eerie.
In one of Mori’s initial instances, a robotic character that smiled a little too slowly was immediately perceived as unlikable and unsettling.
Mori and others have hypothesized that the uncanny valley is a response based on aversion to potential risks of death and illness. Due to the fact that something is human-like but not quite alive, it may evoke the same feeling as encountering something that is dead or dying.