Explain the Uncanny Valley

A friend alerted me on Facebook to this Youtube video which is on the IEEE Spectrum page. Roboticists struggling to define the Uncanny Valley in one minute. (Thanks Astrid!)

Somehow it is really amazing which role the Uncanny Valley has taken in pop culture – and in research as well. I remember when I started to get interested in the phenomenon it was neither well known, not taken very seriously. A colleague who I had asked said “… well it is not really something that is much taken serious among roboticists — perhaps you joke about it after a few glasses of Sake.”

I was not so sure about whether this is true because it was interesting that there seemed to be a taboo to create robots that were too human … obviously the early work of David Hanson and of course Hiroshi Ishiguro were the exceptions. Otherwise robots would have blank plates as faces or would display only the most symbolic facial features.

So listening to the video I am fascinated that people do not primarily focus on the fact that the Uncanny Valley is first and foremost an hypothesis which was presented by Masahiro Mori in 1970. It is thus a theoretical construct, not a thing, or a phenomenon. Whether the phenomenon exists, for whom, for how long and all of that are empirical questions. At this point the evidence is mixed. What do you think?

(trying to get a poll here …)

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Having fun with a Nao

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Having fun with a Nao

In the laboratory of Prof. Toyoaki Nishida, Kyoto University, Japan in August 2011. I am in a VR environment with infra-red motion capture. My movements are translated to the Nao Robot on the left side of the image.

My colleagues of the EMOTE project and I are designing, developing and evaluating a new generation of artificial embodied tutors that have perceptive capabilities to engage in empathic interactions with learners in a shared physical space. In the next couple of years I anticipate posting at irregular intervals also regarding the EMOTE project‘s progress.