Monday, February 3, 2014

Are we out of the Uncanny Valley?

Popular Science put together this video summary of the phenomenon of the uncanny valley in robotics, computer animation, and games. (Link to video)

The term "uncanny valley" was coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. It refers to how artificial characters become more and more attractive as they become more realistic—up to a certain point, when they become creepy and repellant.

Another example is the rampaging baby in Pixar's early experiment "Tin Toy." (Video link)

Scientific American article suggests some explanations for why these failed lookalikes put us on edge. The phenomenon might be related to the unconscious switchover that happens when we believe something to be truly human. Our rising empathy in what we believe to be human can be betrayed by a simple failure of eye contact or head movement, invoking our concern or disgust at seeing a fellow human who is ill.

A related dreadful feeling happens when we see a Madame Tussaud waxwork, only to discover that it is real. This video shows such a prank as fan girls pose with what they think is their favorite boy band. (video link).

Masahiro Mori's paradigm suggests that there's a way out of the valley on the far end, as we approach very accurate simulation. Are we there yet? Have you seen anything recently in the realm of robotics or CGI simulation that you feel is truly appealing? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Previously on GurneyJourney:
Activision reveals real-time face simulation
Bert Untooned


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the creepy feeling one often has in the "uncanny valley" hails from a visceral, repellent, yet unconscious group memory of a possible ancient time, or other world, (certainly one well presented in sic-fi movies) where cloning humans was the norm, humans shells that were biologically alive, but without the ability to love, missing that inner spark, that soul, having no more "heart" than a machine. A machine in human skin. Creepy indeed.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

No, we are not out of Uncanny Valley - it only deepens as the simulation gets closer to the real thing. Big differences from the expected norm matter less than tiny ones, in this case. So the attempts of CG makers and Japanese robot builders to create more and more humanlike things only deepen the creepiness.

FlatClem said...

I dont really agree. They are some realy good examples of CG characters that are conveying emotions without being weird.
I know we are talking about realism so i wont talk about animation movies like Pixar's, but Davy Jones in the second Pirate of the Carabeans or Ceasar in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes are truly amazing to me.
There are also typical effects like "head replacement" that viewers dont even notice in a lot of movies.

Unknown said...

I must say that I don't find the characters in Avatar creepy at all. Maybe it is because they aren't human enough? I would put them on the other side of the valley. Maybe it is because all of their movements and facial expressions were based on the real thing so that they seem more natural.

The creepy comes from the mixture of very realistic yet somehow stiff. I am thinking of that horrible doll from the horror movies....ewwwwww!

Unknown said...

Here is a link to a TED talk where David Hanson demonstrates robots that show emotion:
They simulate the major muscles in the human face.

Unknown said...

This is similar to my "Rule of Plastic Santas" - the closer a plastic Santa gets to life size, the creepier he becomes.

Rich said...

I would also like to trace it back to the dolls: Nothing wrong with children playing with dolls, them dolls subjected to the tear and wear that go along with it;-)
There's no tear and wear in those simulated figures. And an adult person playing with dolls would already look bizarre. The moment I first encountered a talking doll made me feel creepy as well...
The light in those animated figure's eyes always seem to bear an outer reflection: There's nothing appearing from the inside, it seems to me.

J. Anthony Stubblefield said...

I think that is why I like Pixar characters over those of Dreamworks. The Dreamwork characters always creep me out, yet I find Pixar's to be sweet even if they are the "evil" characters.

gavin mouldey said...

Though they could be rightly described as highly creepy, Ron Mueck's works are I believe beyond/over/through the valley. It seems to me that the Uncanny Valley describes a critical rejection of a design for it's slight flaws. When a character is hyperreal in appearance, we are more likely to notice the small imperfections which expose it's lifelessness. Usually textural errors, especially in the eyes. Mueck's figures in person are so deceptive that they left me feeling duped, much like the One Direction video subjects. Despite their unrealistic scale, I found myself waiting for them to breath.