The Uncanny Valley

Friday, August 20, 2010

Transcript

For the animators of films and video games, creating a truly human looking and acting character has long been the holy grail. But making characters close-to-real and yet not-real-enough leaves them in what's called the 'uncanny valley' where audiences find those characters unsettling, unnatural and zombie-like. OTM producer Jamie York looks at how the entertainment industry has dealt with this issue and what the 'uncanny valley' tells us about ourselves and our future.

Comments [11]

Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

I enjoyed the Final Fantasy movie. Then again, I watched it, in part, to see just how close to reality the graphics were. To tell the truth, I found the computer graphics to be on the other side of the uncanny valley (i.e. not realistic enough to be of concern).

Aug. 23 2010 03:04 PM
Michelle Howald

I am curious if the uncanny valley relates to a social / survival mechanism. I know that sometimes people who are mentally unstable have facial expressions and reactions which are not common or predicable. I also wonder if there has been an affect on how well we tolerate those tiny differences because of the millions of ways people's apperances have been altered or "improved" in our common media.

Aug. 23 2010 11:50 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Let's try that, again.

Mr. Beck, that's all well and good and I have discussed various forms of cyborgs in these pages before but I think Azimov was more appropriate a reference with his character R. Daneel Olivaw. I want to write about another aspect of the "instinctive" revulsion to the "souless", as I remember the gist.

I imagine the primitive human interacting with a stranger obviously of the other sex in low light conditions and, nature being what it is, it takes its course with perhaps some sort of intoxicants involved and certain rituals satisfied. Then, morning light breaks, discovery likewise
dawns that the night was spent with a Neanderthal and that a deadly taboo has been broken! It still holds us.

Alan Alda reminded me, on PBS' Human Spark.

Aug. 22 2010 10:55 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Mr. Beck, that's all well and good and I have discussed various forms of cyborgs in these pages before but I think Azimov was more appropriate a reference with his character R. Daneel Olivaw but I want to write about another aspect of the "instinctive" revulsion To the "souless", is I remember the gist.

I imagine the primitive human interacting with a stranger obviously of the other sex in low light conditions and, nature being what it is, it takes its course with perhaps some sort of intoxicants involved and certain rituals satisfied. Then, morning light breaks, discovery likewise
dawns that the night was spent with a Neanderthal and that a deadly taboo has been broken! It still holds us.

Alan Alda reminded me, on PBS' Human Spark.

Aug. 22 2010 10:49 PM
Micah Beck from Knoxville, TN

The ability to construct an automaton that is indistinguishable from a natural person was suggested as a criterion for the achievement of artificial intelligence in 1950 by Alan Turing (a founder of the field of Computer Science). Turing was not concerned with graphics, and assumed that both the artificial and natural person would use a restricted communication channel such as text.

This piece took off from the issue of graphics to consider other aspects of the interchangeability of natural and artificial human interactions. If you step back from the issue of graphics, you will find that technologies which either substitute a machine for a person or augment the ability of humans to communicate are all around us already!

Turing had the right idea. The place where machines can replace and augment people most effectively is in text-based customer service (Web, email and chat). Customer service systems will try to answer questions by matching them to a database of frequent asked questions. If human interaction is necessary, a live chat will put you in touch with a person who is carrying on multiple simultaneous conversations. Finally, if a solution to your problem is found, you may receive the solution in an email to save the time of the human operator.

How long before we can't tell, or don't care, which part of such text-based conversations is natural and which part is automated? Text-based customer service will pass the Turing Test long before the graphics geeks figure out the quantum behavior of light on skin!

Aug. 22 2010 11:38 AM
TOM CZARNIK from BRIGHTON, MICHIGAN

Wow! You went from movie animation to impressionist painting to existentialist philosophy. What news program does this. Keep up the great work OTM. Especially enjoy your pieces on historical journalism.

Aug. 22 2010 08:58 AM
Lynn from Cleveland Heights, Ohio

I am a 58 year old woman and have had moderate facial palsy (as a result of surgery for a benign tumor) for the last sixteen years. I consider myself lucky to be alive and glad I was attractive when I was young; I had a wild enough youth but men have completely stopped showing interest in me and children sometimes stare. Some coworkers look at me warily and some won't look me in the face at all. Your program confirmed for me that I will frighten strangers less if I face them full on and perhaps make a joke with my face; for example an Episcopal Priest who knew me mirrored a healthy half sidelong look of mine back to me as a greeting once in approval. I am grateful for your information to deal with every-day life because it is terrible to have the knowledge that I'll never be kissed or attractive again.

Aug. 21 2010 09:56 PM
David Green from Morenci, Mich.

Excellent job, Jamie, on a really interesting topic. I don't watch much animation, but now I'm going to look into some faces.

Aug. 21 2010 07:58 PM
Ann Langdon from New Haven, CT

I found this segment fascinating (am an artist, though not an animator)! Isn't it amazing how sensitive humans are to nuances in each other? The "vision" element corresponds to the article in yesterday's (?) NY Times on children and vision.

Thanks for the piece. ARL

Aug. 21 2010 08:13 AM
Tim Gilbert from San Francisco

(Apart from that I enjoyed this segment - thanks!)

Aug. 20 2010 10:21 PM
Tim Gilbert from San Francisco

So when you say "theologians argue that we're seeing human imitators that lack a soul [when we look at depictions of people which fall into the uncanny valley]" do you have a particular theologian that you interviewed who argued this? It sounds an awful lot like the sort of thing that a pretend, Platonic theologian might say, but my experience has been that few real-life theologians are content with such pat answers.

Aug. 20 2010 10:20 PM

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