The Uncanny Valley
What is it? How is it? Where does it come from? All questions that I'm sure many will ask in here.
This topic is one I did last year and would like to re-visit it for those that missed it.
The Uncanny Valley
Why are monster-movie zombies so horrifying
and talking animals so fascinating?
Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori is not exactly a household name—but, for the speculative fiction community at least, he could prove to be an important one. The reason why can be summed up in a simple, strangely elegant phrase that translates into English as “the uncanny valley”.
Though originally intended to provide an insight into human psychological reaction to robotic design, the concept expressed by this phrase is equally applicable to interactions with nearly any nonhuman entity. Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” . . . but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.
This chasm—the uncanny valley of Doctor Mori’s thesis—represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting. The first peak, moreover, is where that same individual would see something that is human enough to arouse some empathy, yet at the same time is clearly enough not human to avoid the sense of wrongness. The slope leading up to this first peak is a province of relative emotional detachment—affection, perhaps, but rarely more than that.
The figure to the right diagrams this curve of emotional response, plotting it (from top to bottom) first against how closely an entity’s motion resembles human movement, then against physical resemblance to human appearance, and last against a synthesis of the two. It is significant to note, judging from the relative depth of the curves, that Dr. Mori apparently considers motion more important than simple appearance, though he stresses that both are affected at least as much by subtle nuances as by more striking factors.
The conclusion drawn by the good doctor is that designers of robots or prosthetics should not strive overly hard to duplicate human appearance, lest some seemingly minor flaw drop the hapless android or cyborg into the uncanny valley—a fate to be dreaded by all concerned. He maintains instead that a prosthesis or a robot should be visibly artificial, but smart and stylish in appearance, placing it somewhere near the top of the first peak. This ethos, incidentally, can be seen clearly in a great many science fiction and fantasy manga and animé stories.
The same factors that inspired Doctor Mori to research and describe the uncanny valley and the rest of the curve to which it belongs are of immediate concern to any creator of fantasy or science fiction. Aside from the readily apparent potential for careful tailoring of a character’s or species’ “look and feel” to evoke a specific reaction from the audience, there are some perhaps surprising possibilities and consequences.
Now, with that said, have you ever come across any "uncanny" like figures or beings? If you've played video games in recent years, or watch any CG rendered movies in recent years, you very well have.
Movies such as "The Polar Express", "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within", and "Beowulf" all have their fair share of "uncanny" beings and figures.
Video games are no safe haven either, with titles such as "Mass Effect", HEAVY RAIN, & "Heavenly Sword" all dipping into the "Valley" at some point.
Now, David Cage (Founder & Director @ Quantic Dream) made a fairly bold statement a few years back that: "There is no Uncanny Valley anymore. Not in real time". It was in response to the original tech demo shown for his, then, upcoming game, HEAVY RAIN. Having now played and beaten the title, I observed his widely creative ambitions, but HEAVY RAIN is still plagued with many "uncanny" moments. It's not so much that the game was bad, but our technology hasn't quite caught up.
This subject is one that I will continue to study for years to come. It's my passion and duty each day, studying and finding ways to clear that "Valley".
Here are some examples, in motion, of "The Uncanny Valley":
Some are pretty creepy right? That "creepy" feeling is known as "The Uncanny Valley". They look human, but something's just not "quite right". The part that's "not right" is what I'm trying to pass.
Imagine when a character, such as.....
.....behaves like a human. The "Valley" will no longer exist. How long will it take until it's done in real-time, who knows? But if we continue to heavily study it, and look for ways to conquer it, it should be in the not too distant future. I hope you enjoyed this little experiment today. Feel free to contribute "uncanny" footage, pics, media of any sort. I'd love the contributions as I'm still learning a lot and seeing a lot on this subject!
In the meantime, I leave you with something that should make you feel a little "creeped out":
Check that out!