The Uncanny Valley


Dan’s Robot Double post reminded me of one of my new favorite terms, “The Uncanny Valley.” It’s a hypothesis that humans have an instinctive response of revulsion to facsimiles of themselves. The “valley” is based on the idea that if you encounter a very crude and not-really-that-human-like robot, you are OK with it, but at a certain point as it gets too close to human-like, you have a response of revulsion that can be graphed as a dip or “valley” (and then you get out of the valley, presumably, when it becomes so real that you can’t tell the difference).

So in the handy chart above, industrial and even “humanoid” robots are fine, as are stuffed animals, “healthy persons,” and “bunraku puppets” (whatever that is) — but corpses, zombies, and prosthetic hands all fall within the Valley. These examples all seem to conjure up images of death, which may be what it’s all about — or maybe an instinctive fear of being replaced by robots? Anyhow, Dan’s robot doubles would surely have to contend with the Uncanny Valley as they went about their masters’ business.

More here, including a laundry list of possible explanations, with both the fear of death possibility alluded to above and some other interesting ones.

2 thoughts on “The Uncanny Valley”

  1. I LOVE that (only) “prosthetic hand” has multiple points. An easy one to miss.

  2. Agreed! Your point also makes me realize that corpse and zombie are basically exact moving and non-moving counterparts of the same thing. However, it’s hard to believe that the disgust factor for zombies isn’t drastically greater than the aversion to corpses, given that one constitutes a direct threat to the viewer while the other is merely gross/saddening/upsetting/scary.

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