Does the Uncanny Valley exist?

Erik sez, "This is an analysis of the shortcomings and potential irrelevance of the Uncanny Valley theory. It's based on reporting I did for the current Popular Mechanics cover story on social bots, as well as my face-to-face experience with some of these machines. In a nutshell, our argument is that it was a bad theory to begin with, and only applies to remote viewing of bots. In person, the Valley disintegrates."

According to all of the roboticists and computer scientists we interviewed, the uncanny is in short supply during face-to-face contact with robots. Two of the robots that inspire the most terror–and accompanying YouTube comments–are Osaka University's CB2, a child-like, gray-skinned robot, and KOBIAN, Waseda University's hyper-expressive humanoid. In person, no one rejected the robots. No one screamed and threw chairs at them, or smiled politely and slipped out to report lingering feelings of abject horror. In one case, a local Japanese newspaper tried to force the issue, bringing a group of seniors to visit the full-lipped, almost impossibly creepy-looking KOBIAN. One senior nearly cried, claiming that she felt like the robot truly understood her. A previously skeptical journalist wound up smiling and cuddling with the ominous little CB2. The only exception was a princess from Thailand, who couldn't quite bring herself to help CB2 to its robotic feet.

Royalty notwithstanding, the uncanny effect appears to be an incredibly specific and specialized phenomenon: It seems to happen, when it does, remotely. In person, the uncanny vanishes. There's nothing in the way of peer-reviewed evidence to support this, but then, there's almost nothing to confirm the uncanny effect's existence in the first place. As an unsupported theory that has morphed into a nerdy breed of urban legend, anecdotes are all we have to work with.

The Truth About Robots and the Uncanny Valley: Analysis

(Thanks, Erik!)

(Image: Eva, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Arenamontanus' photostream)