< Letters


Friday, March 19, 2010

BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield, with a few of your emails and Tweets. We received a ton of reader mail in response to OTM producer Jamie York’s piece on the so-called “uncanny valley.” That’s the problem that video game designers and roboticists run into when they try to create simulations of human beings. For some reason, we're comfortable with semi-realistic representations of humans, but we find representations that are more than 96 percent accurate extremely creepy. Karen Schulman wrote in to say that the segment solved a long-running question she'd had about [LAUGHS] Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, quote: “I always wondered what was so off-putting about him, and now I know – the 96 percent problem. He’s so close to being real, just not quite close enough.” And a few listeners asked us for the name of the Jean-Paul Sartre essay referenced in the piece. It’s called Faces.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ernie Garner, from Lake Villa, Illinois, suggests there’s an audio corollary to the uncanny valley, dissonance. He says that when two notes are played far apart, “the brain says ‘no problem, A, B.’” And when two notes are pretty close together, the brain sees it as ‘close enough,’ and just hears it as one note with a changing timbre.” But when the brain hears two notes that are almost exactly the same, he says, quote: “It can tell that it’s not one note but it can't clearly distinguish between the two. We feel the large amount of work the brain is doing as discomfort, dissonance. Note that anything - siblings, art, interior design, clothing – can be dissonant as long as it meets the ‘close but not quite’ criteria.”

BOB GARFIELD: You can always email us. Go to Onthemedia.org and click Contact Us at the top. Just tell us where you live and how to pronounce your name. [LAUGHS] Why do I always say that? Because you never do!