Uncanny Valley: Will we ever learn to live with artificial humans?

Uncanny Valley: Will we ever learn to live with artificial humans?

Uncanny Valley: Will we ever learn to live with artificial humans? –

A new member recently joined the Japanese band AKB48. Pop blogs and a magazine cover story introduced Aimi Eguchi as a sweet 16-year-old from a Tokyo suburb. But there was something strange about this new girl.


After a few weeks, AKB48 admitted that Aimi was computer generated. They took the nose, eyebrows, hair, and lips of six band mates and digitally stitched them into a new singer. (Watch a video of Aimi here.)


Fans had unwittingly tumbled into the “Uncanny Valley,” the idea that people feel uneasy about things that appear nearly human but actually aren’t real. While Americans often associate the phenomenon with animated movies, Japan has increasingly pushed the bounds in the music world.


While animators try to climb out of the Uncanny Valley, researchers still struggle to understand the science behind it. The term is now 40 years old, yet its existence remains mostly anecdotal, says Ayse Pinar Saygin, who this summer carried the field a strong step forward. The professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, led an international team of researchers that discovered that brains perceive humans and impostors in very different ways.


The team wanted to see how subjects would react to Repliee Q2, one of the most realistic androids in the world (pictured above) . At certain angles, the machine could easily be mistaken for a Japanese woman. Once it starts moving, however, the illusion is shattered. Repliee has perhaps the most sophisticated set of motors and joints in an android to date. Yet it’s still obviously a machine.


“As human-like artificial agents become more commonplace, perhaps our perceptual systems will be re-tuned to accommodate these new social partners,” says Saygin’s study.


Not everyone felt the heebie-jeebies around Aimi – a testament to how far computer graphics have come.


“I had no [suspicions] at all,” says Yoshida Koki, an AKB48 fan in Kyoto, Japan. “On the contrary, I thought she was real.”

NeilS — The increase in computer graphic technology over the last 20 year is certainly stunning.  The path from animated Disney tales to stunning Pixar movies has certainly pushed the envelope of how closely we can mimic reality.  These boundaries between the real and the computer generated will continue to blur as the technology gets pushed even further and we as a society get more comfortable with the idea of robotic or computer generated replacements.

To be fair, our pop music already heavily relies on auto-tuner and can be highly stylized and overproduced to the point that it no longer resembles anything that we can consider “real.” Just watch some Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, or Black Eyed Peas music videos and you’ll see what I am talking about.  Nevertheless, the bigger question arises when we start physically interacting with seemingly-real robotic counterparts.  Would it be strange for a robot that looks real to serve your food at a restaurant or dish up a cold brew at a bar?

[PollMe form=’Android’]


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