The International Robot Exhibition concluded recently in Japan, where the world’s robot manufacturers displayed their most advanced and, in some cases, human-like creations.
The emotional response to robots was discussed by roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, who created the theory of the Uncanny Valley.
He argued that that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response of humans will become increasingly positive and empathic.
This is until a point at which the response suddenly becomes strongly repulsive, owing to the uncanny ‘not quite human’ aspect of the robot’s behaviour. This is the point known as the Uncanny Valley (see graph as pop-up).
However, as the appearance and motion are made to be indistinguishable to that of human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.
Mori’s theory is controversial, with some researchers rejecting it out of hand. Nevertheless, it seems intuitively plausible, and still influences robot design and engineering.