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Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter 214

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the says-you-dude dept.
malachiorion writes "Are humanoid bots and CGI characters still crawling their way out of the Uncanny Valley? Maybe, but maybe it doesn't matter. Here's a cold, hard look at a popular robotics theory that might have no legs to stand on, android or otherwise. It's everything that seems wrong and irrelevant about the Uncanny Valley that I wasn't able to fit into this month's Popular Mechanics cover story on social bots."
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Why the Uncanny Valley Doesn't Really Matter

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  • by markhahn (122033) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:15PM (#30849496)

    I think it's weird that some people have a fascination with humanoid robots in the first place. seems like most Japanese robot efforts (at least those that make the press here) are in that vein. sure, there's a golden place in the future for replicants and sex slaves, but to me those seem like fairly narrow niches. if I'm designing robots with the goal of getting useful stuff done, I certainly wouldn't start with a humanoid layout, with all respect to evolution ;)

    I admit it, all the Japanese robot coverage I see is either kawai-oriented or thinly-veiled sex-slave oriented (or both). no doubt that only reflects my taste in paper an online media...

    there's no Uncanny Valley for Roombas.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Un pobre guey (593801)
      with all respect to evolution

      Humans are a small niche in biological evolution. Most creatures are very well adapted for specific environments and life strategies, which I presume is the underlying point you are making about how robots should be designed. If you have a recent model new car that is midrange or higher in price, you have a robot. Roombas, appliances with computers in them, washing machines, dishwashers, robots all. We just haven't been calling them that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ArsonSmith (13997)

        Most of those are just Machines. Robots should have a bit of autonomousness about them.

        • Like anti-lock brakes? Or my car's Electronic Stability Program? How about deciding how much hot water to mix to achieve the optimal washing temp?

          I think the GP's point is that many of our modern appliances have become more autonomous in order to better perform their tasks. They're certainly not self aware, but they're doing a lot more "thinking" than their forerunners.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by frosty_tsm (933163)
            A robot needs to do more than sit and place and perform a task (even if it is engineered to do it well). Such a loose definition does to the term "robots" what has been done to "cloud (computing)" and "nano (machines / structures)" that everyone wants to slap or back-date on their project to make it sound important / relevant.

            As I see it, part of the definition of a robot includes movement. As with the roomba, it has the ability to move around to perform it's task and not be restricted to performing it
    • Robot actors, doctors, teachers etc. all would likely be more personable/likable with a human form and appearance. I'm sure you can imagine a humanoid robot being a bit more comfortable to be around than something out of the terminator series at the doctor's office as an example. The point of humanoid robots likely goes beyond being a cute-bot or any of the examples I've used.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by gyrogeerloose (849181)

        Robot actors

        How about Steven Segal? Or Tom Cruise? Dolph Lundgren? Ah-nuld Schwartzenegger? Sylvester Sallone? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Vin Diesel?

        There's already been a number of successful robotic actors.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jameskojiro (705701)

      Humanoid robots are great as they can use the same tools as humans can and can more easily relate to humans. Why build several $5,000 domestic chore robots that need special tools when you can buy one $20,000 humanoid robot that does all of the shores, need no special tools to clean the toilets, do the dishes, and vacuum the floor except the cheap tools humans already use. Plus make it so you can shag the robot so that makes it win-win... Kinda hard to have a relationship with a Roomba....

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Kinda hard to have a relationship with a Roomba....

        I take it you've tried?

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Polumna (1141165)
          What do you expect, Mother? I'm HALF MACHINE!

          --Buster Bluth
        • Kinda hard to have a relationship with a Roomba....

          I take it you've tried?

          Like, a... physical... relationship? Owowowow brushes right up front owowowow no tubing owowow.

          Just when I thought people who stick their bits in a regular vacuum cleaner couldn't be outdone for finding interesting ways to damage themselves.

    • by Scrameustache (459504) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:33PM (#30849754) Homepage Journal

      I think it's weird that some people have a fascination with humanoid robots in the first place.

      Everything we have is designed to work with our humanoid bodies, so if we want to make a device that interfaces with those things, it will work better if it shares the humanoid design.

      • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @03:59PM (#30851168)

        Everything we have is designed to work with our humanoid bodies, so if we want to make a device that interfaces with those things, it will work better if it shares the humanoid design.

        To an extent. A humanoid form for domestic robots would seem useful but we see that a roomba does a pretty good job and it's nothing more than a flat disc. If you look at conversion kits to turn standard human-operated trucks into remote vehicles, they're admirably utilitarian with a set of stereoscoptic cameras mounted where a human head would go but with simple servo-operated levers for controlling the gas and brake and a neat little set of rubber gears for gripping and turning the steering wheel.

        If we were to ever invent a general-purpose robot, one capable of doing many tasks, it might settle on a human form. Right now our robots tend to be more designed for the purpose. A roomba whirls around the room but does not lift furniture, does not have an attachment for getting between the cushions, etc. An automatic car wash is basically robotic and looks nothing like a human while doing the same work. They're usually worse at it than a human but all you'd need to fix that deficiency is mount some cameras so they can really see the job they're doing and have an articulated pressure washer and scrubber arm to get at the dirt that's not coming off. Computer vision systems are getting to the point where they really could identify clean and dirty with cars off the street. Previous example of computer vision system were like the ones the potato chip companies use to sort bad spuds and they check the incoming potatoes against a known list of acceptable potato colors.

        There's a whole field of biomimicry that seeks to borrow nature's solutions for various engineering problems. While nature can develop some very interesting techniques, it's important to remember that the process is not guided and also has to work with the materials at hand. The common example given is wing-flapping flight. It's not very efficient but modifying limbs to flapping surfaces is about the best you can do. Same goes for terrestrial locomotion. Wheels are awesome but there's only one axle we've ever found in nature and it's on a microscopic organism. Anything bigger than that is pushing itself around with limbs.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Scrameustache (459504)

          Everything we have is designed to work with our humanoid bodies, so if we want to make a device that interfaces with those things, it will work better if it shares the humanoid design.

          To an extent. A humanoid form for domestic robots would seem useful but we see that a roomba does a pretty good job and it's nothing more than a flat disc.

          Exactly, it does -one- good job.
          If someone breaks the android challenge, there's no need to redesign every aspect of human life with purpose-specific robots for every single job.

          P.S. That logic was much better explained by Asimov, from whom I was convinced.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Patch86 (1465427)

            It's lazy thinking, that.

            If you want your floor vacuumed by your humanoid robot then you'll also need to buy him a vacuum cleaner with which to do it. Considering the low cost of computer equipment now, why not just jam a tiny electronic brain in the vacuum which you'll have to buy either way?

            Same goes for most things. Why buy one car and one humanoid robotic chauffeur when you could just buy the car (which you have to buy either way) and stick a computer and a couple of sensors in it? Why have a shed full

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by b4k3d b34nz (900066)

        A primary reason that humanity is so successful is because we are general-purpose, but also because we have the ability to use tools. Robots can be designed to cut out the middle man and become the tool itself, or they can be more general use and still require tools or swappable arms/interfaces.

        So think about it, do humans REALLY interface with the items we build? If so, why are there eventually 2 versions of these created items: "standard" and "ergonomic"? It's because the standard ones never are actually

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:42PM (#30849874) Homepage Journal

      Asimov's robots were nearly all humaniform, and the reason is simple and explained in the stories -- we have a lot of tools that have been designed to fit human hands and feet and eyes and ears. Wheeled robots can't cope with stairs, so legs are the logical choice (although it could be said that three or four might be better than two). Lets see your Roomba clean the stairs! Now, had you a humaniform robot you would have no need for a roomba, as the humaniform robot could operate your existing Hoover, as well as your dishwasher, lawnmower, etc.

      At least one Asimov robot wasn't humaniform. The short story "Sally" had vehicles outfitted with positronic brains.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rjmx (233228)

        Perhaps if evolution had given us wheels instead of legs, we'd be using ramps instead of stairs now.

        And even more worrisome, human progress would have taken a great leap (!) forward when somebody invented the leg, way back in the Stone Age.

    • We all want to own a slave. We all want to be able to say "get me a beer from the fridge" and have something that doesn't look like a fridge do it. Every time. With no back talk.

  • Check out the Rack on that Android. Is it a drop in?

  • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:20PM (#30849556)
    Many biologists think that dog attack cats and dolphins attack sharks for the reason that the latter of each pairing is too similar to the former of each, that the former might draw the comfort of familiarity until the revulsion of what appears to be an abomination of one's own species at closer inspection -- an "Uncanny Valley in the wild" so to speak. Are dogs and cats friendly once they've become acquainted? Oftentimes. Are sharks and dolphins friendly after becoming acquained in a controlled environment? I'll leave that as an experiment up to the user.
    • by mewsenews (251487) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:32PM (#30849726) Homepage

      Are sharks and dolphins friendly after becoming acquained in a controlled environment? I'll leave that as an experiment up to the user.

      you owe me 11 replacement dolphins

      • Funny, but I ran the same experiment and you owe me 11 replacement sharks.

        As a side note, the squids at them both.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by LeperPuppet (1591409)

          Funny, but I ran the same experiment and you owe me 11 replacement sharks. As a side note, the squids at them both.

          Sounds like we need to run more tests.... PeTA is going to love this.

        • I see that animal traffickers are trimming their dozens when selling to researchers...

      • Actually, in a fight, dolphins vs. sharks, the dolphins win. They are faster, can turn around quicker, and are much smarter. They ram their noses in the shark’s tummy. And apparently, sharks hate that so much, that they run away.

        Ok, if the sharks can’t run away... and they begin to panic... then the dolphins are fucked. ;)

    • Just who are these "many biologists?" I'd really like to know so I can go read more about that.
    • by Rhacman (1528815) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:44PM (#30849896)
      I thought dogs just generally chased, attacked, and ate just about anything i.e. squirrels, rabbits, cars, postal employees, spherical objects, non-spherical objects, dirt, rocks... As for sharks, I'm under the impression that their perception of the world can be classified by "to be eaten" and "to be ignored" wheras dolphins are simply reacting to their presence on the former list. That said, I could be swayed if some sources were provided.
    • Careful. Dolphins are highly intelligent and sharks are death with fins. If they *do* become friendly, you're looking at Deep Blue Sea.

      (Though the opportunity of Samuel L Jackson being tired of these motherfucking sharks and dolphins on this motherfucking marine biology lab is too good to pass up.)

    • About dogs... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grocer (718489)
      Dogs are domesticated wolves...who live and hunt in packs. If the cat is an accepted member of the pack, it will be tolerated by the dog. This is a vast oversimplification, of course, but what it comes down to. Man has selectively bred dogs for specific tasks since domesticating them...so we have dogs for hunting, herding, security, and companionship. Depending on which tasks the dog was bred for will determine whether it's sociable with other pets. Even then, there will be variation between individual
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Got a reference for that?

      Sharks and dolphins compete for food and a lone dolphin is potential prey for a hungry member of one of the larger shark species.

      Ditto with dogs and cats - in the wild they compete for food and are potential prey for each other. Sure the domesticated variety often live happily together... as long as there's plenty of food and living space.

    • I suspect a more logical reason for dolphins attacking sharks is the penchant for sharks to try to eat things like dolphins.

  • by avandesande (143899) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:20PM (#30849558) Journal

    Let's worry about it when robots that fall into this scenario actually exist.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      Clearly you did not look at the picture at the top of TFA. That thing is creepy as hell.

      • Nah... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by denzacar (181829)

        That there is clearly a robot with a head of a human looking doll.
        It is not even trying to appear human - it is trying to appear like a doll.
        So, we file it mentally under "D for doll" or "R for Robot" [wikipedia.org] and ignore the uncannyness as we are just approaching the valley.
        The valley actually starts to show with examples like this, [wikipedia.org] and Repliee. [osaka-u.ac.jp]

        And here is where TFA falls on its uncanny ass:

        If machines can trigger cognitive dissonance in the human brain, roboticists must continue to carefully tweak their creations, to avoid individual revulsion and even a society-wide blowback.
        That would be a major concern for the designers and manufacturers of the coming generation of social robots.
        It would be, if the uncanny didn't evaporate on contact.

        A Hypothetical Chasm
        David Hanson, a roboticist whose company, Hanson Robotics, specializes in ultra-realistic robotic heads, actively seeks out the uncanny.
        He keeps the motors in his rubber-skinned faces noisy and overtly robotic, and sometimes presents these lifelike talking heads mounted on a stick.
        And for better or worse, even the shock value of Hanson's buzzing, decapitated heads doesn't stick around for long.
        "In my experience, people get used to the robots very quickly," Hanson says. "As in, within minutes."

        It is really hard to argue with an article that so blindly ignores the very topic it is talking about.
        Its not the robots (of an

  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:24PM (#30849630) Homepage Journal

    TFA says that
    - it may be more nuanced than people originally thought [i.e. the "absolute level of human-likeness" may not be the problem, but mismatched levels [great skin, awful eyes don't go together and are jarring]
    - may have gender bias
    - seems to depend on you viewing something remotely in 2d vs interacting with something real in the same room [the latter didn't seem to engender the same creepyness in those tested]

    Since I don't live in japan nor do I visit robotics labs, I don't have much occasion to interact with near-humanoid robots. So my UV experiences are limited to movies and video games.

    I remember seeing the Final Fantasy: Spirits Within movie in the theater and just minutes into the movie I was convinced I was looking at real humans. Or rather, there was nothing in the film that made me dissociate with the characters; they were as "real" to me as watching actors. I kept trying to "zoom out" of the movie/picture and try to critically evaluate the job they did rendering the characters, but I kept defaulting to treating them as humans and getting sucked back into the movie. Mission accomplished on their part, i guess.

    I think the UV effect is definitely apparent in 2D matter -- as a fan of anime I am more inclined to "accept" characters that are absolutely impossible.. both physically and emotionally.. but which do not attempt to persuade me they are more than they are. Yet when video game makers get something slightly wrong it _is_ a jarring experience. I've seen video game cutscenes where there are clearly a lot of polygons and textures and art time involved...but something just seems off and instead of you being wowed [or ideally, _not wowed_] you are left feeling disappointed. You know everyone worked hard to try and make the scene but they absolutely did not pull it off.. and the game experience is worse as a result. Mistakes that land your artwork into the "UV" category turn people into videogame/art critics instead of people enjoying an interactive experience.

    • by PitaBred (632671)

      Great points. Go all the way, or go none of the way, but be consistent. That's the only thing that really changes perceptions is when consistency is changed.

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:27PM (#30849670)

    It was the first virtual world which I could see as real, which I didn't have to pretend otherwise because all previous efforts has give-aways that it was fake. It looked goood (and if you sat through the credits, the masses of names hint towards the work needed to make this so) and that's why it's so successful and a breakthrough, imo.

    • by Itninja (937614)
      I don't think Avatar applies in this case because only the aliens were CG. All the significant shots of humans were flesh-and-blood people.
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @03:35PM (#30850680)

        I don't think Avatar applies in this case because only the aliens were CG. All the significant shots of humans were flesh-and-blood people.

        And I think importantly the aliens were far enough from humans that the uncanny valley wasn't triggered. Their eyes were semi human, but were different enough that they looked cute, not wierdly almost human. Their skin was blue, so there wasn't any "Something isn't quite right with their skin...OMG THEY'RE DISEASED" response from your brain.

        The movements and expressions looked natural because if I've heard correctly, those were basically real movements and expressions, not artificially made. If there were humans who were CGed in Avatar, I'm guessing they required far, far more work and money than the alien sequences.

        Maybe if there were a real pandorean and they were to see it, they'd be creeped out as hell by the CG aliens.

        Basically, I think Avatar cheated out of the uncanny valley, or at least got off on a technicality.

        I remember in the matrix there were a few CG shots of people. There was a reason they were wearing sunglasses at night while kung fu fighting, it wasn't just to try to look cool or make me think of the song, it was also so they wouldn't have to spend a lot of money making the eyes look right.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It was the first virtual world which I could see as real, which I didn't have to pretend otherwise because all previous efforts has give-aways that it was fake. It looked goood (and if you sat through the credits, the masses of names hint towards the work needed to make this so) and that's why it's so successful and a breakthrough, imo.

      No. The reason you didnt feel the uncanny valley was because it wasnt real. It was so far from real that your brain didnt find the twisted smurf creatures disturbing.

      I'm also pissed off (as a phd in graphics research) that everyone thinks its breakthrough. Gollum in LOTR was a breakthrough, theres no new tech in this movie. James Cameron needs to stop saying how he invented mocap, its stupid. You'll find that most of the amazing "breakthroughs" of the last decade you didnt actually notice because the CG was

      • by timeOday (582209)

        The reason you didnt feel the uncanny valley was because it wasnt real. It was so far from real that your brain didnt find the twisted smurf creatures disturbing.

        There were plenty of humans in the film too, so that point is moot. However, the blue people were definitely more lifelike than gollum in my eyes.

        I do consider Avatar a breakthrough. I don't know whether it really was in huge step in any particular technical aspect, or whether the whole just surpassed some threshold, but the realism of everyt

      • by lennier (44736)

        "James Cameron needs to stop saying how he invented mocap, its stupid. "

          O rly? [youtube.com]

        In this interview he says he's using an off-the shelf body motion capture rig, but the innovation was in the helmet-cam facial recognition system and software and the goal of 'zero artist touchups' on the facial rendering.

        Seems significant to me.

      • I'm also pissed off (as a phd in graphics research) that everyone thinks its breakthrough. Gollum in LOTR was a breakthrough, theres no new tech in this movie. James Cameron needs to stop saying how he invented mocap, its stupid. You'll find that most of the amazing "breakthroughs" of the last decade you didnt actually notice because the CG was perfect and more importantly subtle.

        Avatar was groundbreaking technology. Gollum was freakin' AMAZING. I might have been more impressed with the work done on Jar-Jar if not for him being a hatefully stupid character in conception and execution and despising everyone involved in his creation. Gollum was so freakin' wild because he was so convincing. You were totally sold on the idea he was real. Environmental interaction, lighting, acting, it was all perfect. And so much artistry went into that. I've seen effects in big budget movies since the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wraithlyn (133796)

        As another poster pointed out, Cameron never claimed he "invented" mocap.

        He has however, perfected it, via the facial capture stuff he added, to the extent that "performance capture" is now a more apt label than simply motion capture, and can be used large scale.

        Gollum required a small army of animators to complete Serkis's performance (especially Weta Digital's Bay Raitt, who crafted Gollum's facial expressions [http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1558,1554342,00.asp]).

        The detailed expressions on the Na'

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Deadstick (535032)
      Perhaps there would be an uncanny valley if you knew what a ten-foot blue alien was supposed to look like.

      rj

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      One weird thing about Avatar, I felt the same way as you, but when I remembered back to the movie, in my mind the live action scenes were remembered as cartoons. That seemed really weird to me, but I mentioned it to my brother and he said the same thing happened to him. I am not sure if this is my brain's reaction to knowing the whole thing can't be real, and being confused by it, or what. Either way the graphics were impressive enough that my brain was very confused by it.
    • by ScentCone (795499)
      It was the first virtual world which I could see as real

      Actually, the only phony two-dimensional portrayals in that film were Corporate Goons (tm) and the Evil U.S. Marines->Mercenaries (tm). I felt more of a credibility gulf between me and those characters than I did between me and the blue dudes.
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquar ... m minus language> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:30PM (#30849710) Homepage Journal

    went on their famous expedition, there was a black guy in their group, york

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_(explorer) [wikipedia.org]

    the native americans would stand in slack jaw amazement at york, as if he were possessed of magic. they never saw a black man before. york would further dumbfound them by taking out and reinserting his false teeth

    meanwhile, consider the cantina scene in star wars: aliens of extreme forms, and humans mingling in with them as if no big deal

    both the cantina scene and york's experience are the truth: our amazement at first is profound and very real at seeing new ethnicities/ life forms. but it also wears off very quick

    we can get used to interacting with anything. the uncanny valley is real, but its also very temporary

    • by Itninja (937614) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:38PM (#30849828) Homepage
      Reminds me of a story my English teacher told the class in high school. He is 6'6" tall and spent some time in China after college. He told us that, even though there were other Anglos here and there, everywhere he went there would eventually be a crowd surrounding him and gawking at his height. I imagine it was the same phenomenon he are speaking of: unfamiliarity adds either novelty or revulsion....but once something is familiar it is (eventually) accepted.
      • by treeves (963993)
        So, you suppose Yao Ming was gawked at as much, or less, or more since he's taller, when he was in China?
        • by timeOday (582209)
          I'd guess more, since Yao Ming is a worldwide superstar and renowned throughout China. (Check out Year of the Yao [imdb.com] sometime.)

          The difference is, Yao Ming never became commonplace because there's only one of him. "Uncanny" robots could be manufactured by the millions and hence become commonplace, if there is ever a reason to do so.

          My guess is lots of companies will make robots that creep everybody out. Then eventually Apple will release something that's weird but in a cool way, and people will start dre

          • by treeves (963993)
            I should have said, "when he was in China, *before* he was famous". Say when he was 17.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by SinGunner (911891)
        I'm white and speak Japanese without an accent (Dave Specter has me beat on vocabulary, but he sounds horrible). I get the same initial shock when I open my mouth. If they're under 15, they just tend to stare for a minute. After a couple sentences, most people calm down and everything is normal. However, when I leave I often hear whispered comments about how much of a shock the experience was.
        • by Itninja (937614)
          Yeah me too...I'm a pudgy guy of Irish descent (i.e. pasty white skin) who speaks Arabic. You should see the look on the faces of Muslims I meet at the mall when I strike up a conversation with them.
          • by 93,000 (150453) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @04:24PM (#30851670)

            I'm a normal American of Scandinavian descent, and I speak perfect Klingon. I randomly walk up to people in the mall and start speaking it.

            Their minds are so blown by how perfect my Klingon is that they pretty much always grab their children and walk away really, really fast.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I'm 6'7" and in Panama right now. We went to the Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo on a weekday, and a bunch of school groups were there. The children were more interested in my lady and I than anything else in the park...

  • The article says that one of the designers "deliberately seeks out the uncanny" by making his robots buzz and click, by making them incomplete.

    What this is doing is keeping them firmly on the "cartoon" side of any such valley. If it exists or not, robots that are deliberately avoiding it aren't evidence one way or the other.

    • Exactly. The author simply doesn't seem to know where the uncanny valley is. He uses three examples: CB2 [youtube.com], KOBIAN [youtube.com], and Nexi [youtube.com]. Of these, KOBIAN and Nexi are clearly on the cartoony side of the valley, and CB2 (at least to me) is already climbing out of the valley onto the the other side.
      • by Rantastic (583764)
        I am glad I was not the only one left with the impression that the author has no idea what he is talking about. Personally, I found nothing uncanny about KOBIAN or Nexi but found CB2 pretty creepy. As you stated, the first two are clearly on the cartoon side and I put CB2 right down in the valley.
  • by PylonHead (61401) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:35PM (#30849780) Homepage Journal

    Wasn't impressed with the article.

    He calls the Uncanny Valley "a groundless thought experiment", when it's really a simple description of a phenomenon that I (and presumably many other people) have experienced.

    He goes on to say that people aren't frightened by humanoid robots. My experience with the uncanny has never frightened me. It's more of a vague repulsion and an emotional disinterest.

    He then goes on to talk about a series of robots that aren't nearly human-like enough to trigger the uncanny valley phenomenon. Honestly the phenomenon seems much more relevant to the computer graphics world than it does to robotics at this moment in time.

    • by polar red (215081)

      It's more of a vague repulsion and an emotional disinterest.

      I guess it will rapidly fade when those kinds of robots are common, and we get used to them.

    • by jfengel (409917)

      He then goes on to talk about a series of robots that aren't nearly human-like enough to trigger the uncanny valley phenomenon.

      Absolutely: animations are quite capable of entering the uncanny valley, but real 3D physical objects aren't yet close.

      When they do get a humanoid robot close enough to be uncanny, though, I suspect it's going to be very unnerving.

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @04:10PM (#30851392) Journal

      He only briefly mentions the Polar Express movie that had a really big uncanny valley problem.

      If you have seen the movie, you know what it is, it looks at once so real and at the same time is a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The two just don't match.

      There is a reason movies like Madagascar, Wall-E, Up etc despite being drop dead gorgous use clear cartoony looks ESPECIALLY for their characters. And while it is acceptable for the plane in Madagascar 2 to bounce like cartoon plane because it is clear that no matter how accurately it is rendered it is NOT a real aircraft. But the train in Polar Express DOES look real and real trains do not behave like that.

      It is the superman problem. Spiderman can swing from wall to wall because it slightly makes sense, sense enough perhaps. Superman being able to lift an Island doesn't. Stopping a train. That has nothing to do with strength anymore, but with conversion of energy. He may be strong enough, but we know the ground isn't.

      The uncanny valley is NOT something not looking right, but us knowing that the real thing looks or behaves different. It is why walking is SO hard to do in any animation. Most animation showing walking has a problem with slipping, it looks immidiatly wrong to us.

      A robot, and no robot so far looks anything like a real human, just doesn't look real enough to trigger the feeling that it is wrong.

      The uncanny valley is not restricted to animation or future robots. Ordinary humans got it as well, watch someone with a glass eye or scarring that is not obvious anymore but still large. Burn victim with a lot of corrective surgery whose face is close but at the same time a million miles removed. A burn victim with just a huge nasty scar might be shocking, but that is soon passed, but that face that is almost normal but isn't, that gets the constant stares.

      The uncanny valley is not a theory or a measurement, it is simply the observation that people accept a :) as a face but a 99% realistic rendering is instantly picked as fake NOT for missing a pixel but because the eyes are at an unnatural angle.

  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:36PM (#30849796)
    What I said in the Popular Mechanics comments:

    Apparently in all his research on the Uncanny Valley the author missed or ignored the oft-remarked reason why the phenomenon *is* important: robots are expensive, and if people don't like them in their *first* impression, it's not worth the cost. 'Social' robots are not going to be seen in homes first, that's too expensive. The first market for social robots will be in some form of customer relations where replacing hourly employees makes business sense, but NOT if that means customers leave for whoever still has real people.

    So yes, people can adapt to robots, duh, we're rational animals. However, if somebody is expecting a person, they get a robot, *and* they feel uncomfortable about it, even for a few minutes, that might be enough of a catalyst to consciously OR unconsciously cause them to look for services not provided by robots, ultimately damaging the company that bought the robot to fill the role.

    Also, you allude to studies that show that the uncanny valley may not be 'real' for women but may be so for men. After all, Mori himself was male, maybe he what he thought applied to everybody only applied to his male experience. That doesn't mean the uncanny valley doesn't exist, it just means it isn't within the parameters originally believed to be understood. Basically by citing the study, you admit that it has been scientifically shown to exist, just in a more limited sense. Hardly discrediting.
    • by pnuema (523776)
      The first market for social robots will be in some form of customer relations where replacing hourly employees makes business sense

      The first market for social robots will be fuckbots. You must be new here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770)

      Human contact has been replaced by machines lots of places like bank clerks who has been almost fully replaced by online banking and cash machines, or how about ticket machines or vending machines? I have a dishwasher and washing machine, none of those are built the way I'd wash dishes or do laundry. The point is not that machines suck at being useful, it's that they suck at being humans. I'd rather in fact not have a clippy interface to my machine if I can help it. Why does everyone seem to think a humanoi

  • Which would you rather talk to on the phone? Horrible robot voice or Real live human voice?

    Now imagine instead of just the voice it's the whole face, body, movement, etc. NO THANKS.

    It's odd though, I think I could somehow handle talking to "Robbie the Robot" better than I could these creepy rubber dolls (like the one in TFA). Creepy as hell.

  • Somehow nobody has trouble dealing with the Muppets, or the Henson-created aliens on Farscape; even little children deal with them, and my non-techie mother-in-law thinks my wife's Rygel doll is "cute". (Well, maybe it looks better than Rygel did; point is she doesn't say "it's a squishy frog".) Somehow the folks at Pixar manage to make an architect's lamp behave enough to make people think of it as a creature. Humans can accept a *lot*.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Blakey Rat (99501)

      You kind of misunderstand the phenomena. The reason all the things you listed are easy-to-take is that they don't even look remotely close to humans.

      The uncanny valley refers to the emotional detachment towards CGI creations that look and behave *almost* (but not exactly) like real people. A good example would be the recent CGI Beowulf movie, or another poster mentioned Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within from a few years ago.

      The theory is that the less human a creature looks/acts, the more we can accept it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xigxag (167441)

        You kind of misunderstand the phenomena. The reason all the things you listed are easy-to-take is that they don't even look remotely close to humans.

        GP is saying he disagrees with uncanny valley theory, and you're saying that he's mistaken because UV-theory is true, he just doesn't get it. You may be right, but you're also engaging in circular reasoning. It would be better to say, "UV-theory contends that the reason all the things you listed are easy-to-take..."

        Anyway, first of all, I would dispute that

    • by JWW (79176)

      With respect to Pixar. What I always find really interesting is that Pixar can make things in their movies extremely accurate, but to date they always impart some sort of cartoon quality to all their human characters. This is especially noticeable in Up and in the Incredibles, their two movies that focus almost exclusively on purely human characters. All the characters in the Incredibles have a comic book quality to them, and all the characters in Up have exaggerated features, nose, ears, etc.

      I think Pix

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @03:00PM (#30850124) Journal
    It's a problem that's culture-wide but is already going away. Twenty years ago people refused to use automated answering machines. Now many people prefer doing all their business via automated customer support precisely because they don't have to talk to people. As our culture as a whole gets used to automated systems, we'll stop being freaked.

    And, anyway, robot technology is improving every year, and as such they're doing their best to cross the uncanny valley and getting better all the time. Meanwhile, on this side, we're doing our best to cross to their side, led by Michael Jackson, Cher, Tila Tequila, and Jocelyn Wildenstein.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Find me a person that prefers automated customer support so I can punch them repeatedly in the face.

      Speaking as a technician who has had to call support lines for RMAs or service outages... automated parts of support are annoying as hell, especially when you're expected to talk to the computer like that's supposed to make it more familiar or comfortable. Even when the system understands, which is hard enough, you still feel like a jackass doing it when you could just be pressing a number.
      • by winwar (114053)

        "Even when the system understands, which is hard enough, you still feel like a jackass doing it when you could just be pressing a number."

        Feel free to start punching yourself now. Use a mirror if it makes you feel better.

        You dislike voice autmomated systems. Not automated systems. Better would be humans capable of solving your problems. But most people prefer automated customer support because human customer support has been reduced to a sequence of scripts. At that point why waste time dealing with a

        • I dislike them both, just voice-based more (which is what I said, but you chose to ignore that). Not everything is an exclusive binary system. Nice try at being cute though, next time read and comprehend the whole thing and you won't look like a douche.

          Key take home point: if I'm dealing with a computer, I want to deal with it like a computer, not pretending it's human. I would rather in cases of complex problem solving (which in the context means anything other than basic inventory operations and querie
      • by BZ (40346)

        > Find me a person that prefers automated customer support so I can punch them repeatedly
        > in the face.

        I have actually encountered one example where the automated system is better than I think a person would be. If you call zipcar while in the middle of your reservation, after punching in your member number the automated system starts with:

        You have a car reserved from t1 to t2. If you would like to extend the reservation,
        press 1.

        I haven't listened past that, since I in

    • by Sir Holo (531007)

      smellsofbikes: Twenty years ago people refused to use automated answering machines. Now many people prefer doing all their business via automated customer support precisely because they don't have to talk to people.

      You sound like you work for TellMe.

      Most people hate automated response systems because they take forever to get things done. No one really needs to be told how to operate voice mail every time.

      Oh, and people have been happily using answering machines for at least 35 years.

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @03:04PM (#30850182)
    I think a key problem here is simply that humanity has evolved elaborate behaviors and telltales for communication even without intent. For example, in a store there are distinct differences in the behavior of someone looking for something versus someone walking purposefully to a destination. Irritation is easily transmitted. What this means is that for the typical human, there are limits to how well they can deceive another human. I think that's one of the causes of the uncanny valley. If you're in the valley, then the behavioral cues either cannot be interpreted or even worse are merely a skin that can be readily changed.

    Violations of these behaviors and evolved protocols can really upset us. For example, a scene in Terminator II shows the evil robot of the movie (which can take anyone's form that it kills) has earlier (unknown to the audience) taken over the form of a woman talking on the phone to her son. The audience senses something is wrong, the dog is barking hectically outside and the woman is trying suspiciously to milk the son for information on his location. She gets the name of the dog wrong. It's only then that we know she's the killer robot. Right after the call ends, we find the robot also killed the husband of the woman while casually talking on the phone. Think about that. Someone who can chat on the phone without even a trace of emotion or extertion while killing a person at the same time. Bladerunner explores this to great extent (the opening scene is a great example). Silence of the Lambs is in part about a hideous serial killer who shows no remorse and reveals of himself only what he wishes.

    We are scared of people who can lie and kill without the deed showing in their behavior and that fear is readily milked in many movies about murderous robots and calm psychopaths. I believe this is part of the uncanny valley. We've evolved over time to share a common nonverbal system of communication. Anything which can exploit this system, be it beings that don't look quite right or can deceive us completely and effortlessly, triggers a warning in us.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BetterSense (1398915)
      I've been told that the reason people (often) fear snakes and clowns is that they cannot read any emotion from their expressions. I think a robot would have to be amazingly nuanced and advanced for people to accept its body language as human.
      • The reason people fear snakes is much more likely due to the human race having evolved in an area with poisonous snakes.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          And it was recently discovered that our more intelligent enemies, the Neanderthals, wore makeup and long shoes resembling that of clowns.
  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @03:47PM (#30850914)
    Humanoid robots terrify me to no end. At first, I was simply bothered by the fact that people were trying to develop this technology. I couldn't understand what new functionality they were trying to develop, and I didn't see why they would simply try to duplicate the existing functionality of human beings (since there are already billions of us around).

    Now that I've thought about it, I think the new "functionality" they want to add is compliance. They want to say to something, resembling a person, "do this" and have them do it without talking back. Basically, they want someone to serve them without ever having to consider that person's needs or feelings. They want someone to go and take car of their mother or their children for them, so that they don't have to. They want someone who will have sex with them for no reason other than their desire for sex.

    So some day, the hope is, we will be surrounded by human-looking robots who will cater to our every whim and never give us any trouble. I don't think that's good for us, and I question the mental stability of someone who would want to live that way.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I don't think that's good for us, and I question the mental stability of someone who would want to live that way.

      We have that already. It's called television. It raises our children and provides us with a [poor] substitute for sex. It doesn't take orders but it does tell us what to think. Now get back to American Gladiators, peon.

  • Stuff looks really creepy because of the uncanny valley.
    I do not want to buy stuff that looks really creepy, when I do not expect it to be. (Exception: Horror games/movies.)
    I assume that this is true for nearly everybody.
    If people don’t buy it, there is no profit in it.
    If there is no profit in something, no company will produce it.

    There’s how it matters.
    Simple as that.

  • Wall-E anyone? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @05:07PM (#30852550)

    I think the phenomenon labeled Uncanny Valley is perfectly valid and perfectly irrelevant. At least, as long as it's framed solely in terms of appearance. It's trivially easy for people to relate to Wall-E. It doesn't matter in the slightest that he looks only very vaguely cubically humanoid. He could be, in the great Disney test of yesteryear, an animated flour sack. As long as he appears to express emotions, the machine instantly becomes "he" to us. (Or she, depending on the mannerisms.) A walking talking RealDoll will still be a creepy failure as long as it doesn't move right. A box with treads will succeed, as long as it can act human (or possibly canine).

    In desktop computers, it's the software that's inadequate, as every attempt at game AI demonstrates. In robots, there are still a few things that are inadequate in the hardware, but truly it's still the software. Roombas have zero personality.

    Slashdot carried the story about the little robot let loose in Central Park a while back. It was nothing but a bump and go car with a flag on it and a sign saying "help me get to point X" and people actually did help it. Now consider what would have happened if it had been a Wall-E bot. I'd bet money that if a little robot hunched down, tapped his manipulator tips together, tipped his cameras into a configuration vaguely reminiscent of a worried expression and shuffled his treads, and held up a sign asking for help to reach point X that someone would have literally stopped what they were doing, taken his hand, and led him the entire way there.

    It's the personality, stupid. (To coin a phrase...)

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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