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THE UNCANNY VALLEY PHENOMENON

Maria Rutkowska

With technological advancements introduced by science, we can observe improvements in avatar, animation, or even android projection. Even though animators seek to create the perfect image of a human, there is still something unreal about the characters. Either the eye colour or overall face structure. 
 
Did you ever experience seeing a human-like animation that does not quite seem to look right? They seem realistic and very much lifelike, but they are not human and somehow, we recognise that. This is an occurrence called “The uncanny valley” phenomenon. 
 
The uncanny valley demonstrates the correlation between “human-like appearance of a robotic object and the emotional repose it evokes”. In simpler terms, it relates to the reaction we get when we encounter a robotic, human looking object. The feeling can be uneasy and unpleasant. 

But why is the uncanny valley so scary? 
 
Since the characters could not have sensors on their eyes, nor their mouths, those features are computer generated. This can evoke the impression that the rest of the human looks somewhat off. The name itself is a figurative language device, a metaphor, relating to the idea that the human appearance or behaviour can make something artificial more valuable, since its familiar. However, the familiarity drops sharply into the uncanny when the animation or any other artificial object fails to mimic a realistic human.
 
The graph bellow describes the human likeness by percentages of specific human-like objects. The uncanny valley is shown between toy robots and puppets. As a robot’s human likeliness increases, we are more inclined to feel comfortable around it, but only to a certain point.

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The concept itself was firstly introduced in around 1970 by Masahiro Mori. It was later reinstated by a professor at the Tokyo institute of Technology. Mori evaluated in his essay, “I have noticed that, in climbing toward the goal of making robots appear human, our affinity for them increases until we come to a valley, which I call the uncanny valley.” He describes his view on prosthetic hands as well, “(...)when we realize the hand, which at first site looked real, is in fact artificial, we experience an eerie sensation.” The sensations vary, and many may find it scary. Research published in 2010, evaluated that this “eerie sensation can relate to ‘(…) our sense of familiarity with robots increases as they become more humanlike, but only up to a point. If life like appearance is approached but not attained, our reaction shifts from empathy to revulsion.” This piece restates, that humans find robots more familiar, when they look like themselves, but to a certain point. After that point, the appearance of a human like object, becomes unsettling. 
 
Interestingly, this is connected to the mechanism of our brain. “For a neuroscientist, the ‘Uncanny Valley’ is an interesting phenomenon,” explains Dr Fabian Grabenhorst, a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. “It implies a neural mechanism that first judges how close a given sensory input, such as the image of a robot, lies to the boundary of what we perceive as a human or non-human agent. This information would then be used by a separate valuation system to determine the agent’s likeability.” This relates to the fact, that our brain identifies the image of an artificially developed object to have the likelihood of a human yet is not fully cross the “boundary”. 
 
The Uncanny Valley is perceived differently by everyone. It is the point in robot familiarisation, in which we can identify that the robot looks very similar to a human, yet its features are slightly off. This feeling can be observed while watching movies such as Black Panther by Marvel, Polar Express or Alita: The Battle Angel. In them, some can experience the uncanny valley effect, introduced by Masahiro Mori.

Bibliography:
https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-uncanny-valley-4846247
Author: Kendra Cherry
Date accessed: 22.12.2021 
 
https://nfhsraiderwire.com/showcase/2021/03/19/why-the-uncanny-valley-is-the-scariest-form- of-horror/
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Date accessed: 21.12.2021 

 
https://spectrum.ieee.org/what-is-the-uncanny-valley#toggle-gdpr
Author: Rina Diane Caballar
Date accessed: 22.12.2021 

 
Seminal essay for Japanese journal “Energy” written by Mori. 
 
“Who’s afraid of the Uncanny Valley” https://spectrum.ieee.org/afraid-of-the-uncanny-valley
Author: Erico Guizzo
Date accessed: 23.12.2021 

 
https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/scientists-identify-possible-source-of-the-uncanny- valley-in-the-brain

https://spectrum.ieee.org/what-is-the-uncanny-valley