As I walk through the uncanny valley

Seed Magazine has an interesting piece on the ‘uncanny valley‘ effect, where humanoid figures become increasingly more attractive until they’re ‘a bit too lifelike’ and start seeming uncomfortably eerie.

It’s a fantastic piece because it discusses the development of the concept of ‘uncanniness’ – from the initial explanations by Freud to some tentative experimental studies that attempts to explain why some androids feel a bit creepy.

Disturbing experiences that feel both familiar and strange are instances of the “uncanny,” an intuitive concept, yet one that has defied simple explanation for more than a century. Interest in the particular occurrences of the uncanny, in which humans are bothered by interaction with human-like models, began as a psychological curiosity. But as our ability to design artificial life has increased—along with our dependence on it—getting to the heart of why people respond negatively to realistic models of themselves has taken on a new importance. Attempts to understand the origins of this reaction, known since the 1970s as the “uncanny valley response,” have drawn on everything from repressed fears of castration to an evolutionary mechanism for mate selection, but there has been little empirical evidence to assess the validity of these ideas.

I’ve always wondered whether people with robot fetishes, who get sexually aroused by android-like sex partners, are less susceptible to the uncanny valley effect.

Best of luck getting funding for that research project, I think to myself.

Link to Seed article ‘Into the Uncanny Valley’.

2 Comments

  1. MELANIE
    Posted November 19, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    I wanted to weigh in on this by sharing my personal experience with the ‘uncanny valley’ effect. When my grandmother passes away, everyone in the family was devastated. She was the heart and soul of our family. But seeing her in the coffin was strangely uncanny. The woman we loved so dearly seemed to be a stranger, in fact, I felt hesistant even to touch her dead body. In David Corbin’s ‘Illuminate’ model, to find resolution to any situation, you must face it, follow it and only then can you fix it…and now I realize that at the core of my hesitance was my own fear of death. Insightful.

  2. Posted November 19, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Melanie, I think what you describe is not uncommon for people seeing their loved ones in funeral homes for the first time after their deaths. I felt I had to touch my father’s arm in the casket, even though the sight of him was strange; the makeup gave him an “off” look, but he looked just enough like himself that (it feels strange to type this) I had to touch him, to feel his woodenness, to assure my primitive brain that he was dead and we would not be consigning a living being to premature burial.
    BTW, that photo of the Jinks sculpture with the Seed article so troubled me that I had to follow the link to the gallery. What an artist.


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