The Uncanny Valley is a topic of much fascination not only in robotics, where it originated, but also in other scientific circles as well as in popular culture. Roboticists often allude to it, and so do computer scientists, psychologists, artists, and media theorists. In 2008, it was mentioned in the TV series "30 Rock." More recently, the Uncanny Valley was used to explain why several animation movies failed, and an Atlantic article referred to it to describe Mitt Romney. The term has also been used to name everything from a literary magazine to a painting of a baboon embracing Nicolas Cage. Some even suggest that the Uncanny Valley has become a meme. But just what is the Uncanny Valley?
At a recent robotics gathering in Japan we had the perfect opportunity to ask that question. "The Uncanny Valley Revisited" was a tribute to Masahiro Mori, the robotics professor who came up with the concept in 1970. The event featured speakers with a wide range of backgrounds. At the end we cornered some of the presenters and asked them to explain the Uncanny Valley in less than a minute. Here's how they did.
Our intrepid explainers are: Minoru Asada, a robotics professor at Osaka University; Ken Goldberg, a roboticist and artist at UC Berkeley; Hiroshi Ishiguro, a robotics professor at Osaka University; Elizabeth Jochum, co-founder of University of Copenhagen's Robot Culture and Aesthetics Research Group; Peter Lunenfeld, a professor of media design at UCLA; Marek Michalowski, co-founder of BeatBots; and Todd Murphey, a professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.
If you think you have a good and short explanation, post it on the comment section below.
Image: Montage via Fotor
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. He’s the cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.