Explain the Uncanny Valley in Less Than 1 Minute. Go!

We gave these experts a minute to explain the Uncanny Valley. Here's how they did

1 min read
Explain the uncanny valley
Image: IEEE Spectrum

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 explainwhy several animation moviesfailed, 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

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By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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