Uncanny Valley Essay

1. Masahiro Mori created a theory which states that the more a robot or other human looking imitations act like a human or look like a human, the more captivating it would be to human beings. The “valley” refers to the dip in which the data is represented on a graph charting human responses to robots. Mori found that if something that is clearly not human being and given human qualities we find those qualities endearing, however if we give it too many human qualities it starts looking like an imperfect integration, but if the character is indistinguishable from a human beings and will be appealing to humans.

Furthermore this means that if an object is not human like but has human like qualities, then the object will be appealing, however if the object is human-looking and has human qualities, the object will not be appealing because it’s non-human characteristics is all the audience will pay attention to. There are several theories that explain the fundamental spectacles of the uncanny valley and here are a few: the fact that if a model is human-like but not quite, the main focus will be how it is not human-like with error beings pointed out. Also, if a model is human-like it causes religious conflicts within religions, as to being a menace to human beings; such religions may include Islam, Christianity and Judaism (MacDorman, 2006). The Uncanny Valley has been criticized and here are a few of its critics.

David Hanson has stated that objects being portrayed with human characteristics will have a disparaging response. He adds that by having individuals critique photographs that have been altered from humanoid robots to humanoid robots to android robots to human beings, may perhaps be changed by adding cartoonish features to the object which had fallen into the valley at first.

Hanson also critiques that the uncanny seems to look at any point of human likeness, and that individuals cultural backgrounds may have an impact on how models are observed with respect to the uncanny valley. An example is the video game NBA 2K9, in this video game the players are human-like however, we can obviously distinguish the players from human beings which we respond to this game in a positive manner. However, in the film The Polar Express, the characters seem to be repulsive and too human-like which we respond to this in a negative manner.

2. For human likeness, there isn’t really a clear-cut definition. However the point is not the definition, the point is the definition in the context which the word is being used in. Masahiro made the observation that if you make an entity more human like, they seem familiar. Generally speaking, we would assume that the more an entity is human-like than the more familiar it would be from the beginning of the graph to the end giving us a linear pattern. However he argued that a model that is too human-like could seem very eerie, which he presented as the “Uncanny Valley”. Furthermore when a model looks almost human but not quite, we tend to pay attention to the eerie that make us believe it’s not human. Human-like would mean that the model would have the same attributes, characteristics and qualities of a human-being. This is not to say that these are the only qualities that make a model human-like. There are particular gestures, movements and emotions that humans have that computer animations and graphics cannot acquire because it is just too difficult to undertake.

For example, the bending motion of human limbs, such as the knees is too difficult to make human-like on an object. From a dictionary’s definition, “familiarity is thorough knowledge or mastery of a thing, subject, etc.” Familiarity in my opinion would be similar if not the same as emotional response. If an object or a person is familiar to someone, we automatically receive or give an emotional response to that person or to that object. Referring to the Uncanny Valley graph, the more a model is human-like, the more familiar it gets, until it reaches a point (uncanny valley) where it is lacking human like characteristics and we get a negative response because of our sensitivity to alleged inadequacies in close to human-like forms. According to a dictionary, “Realism the doctrine that objects of sense perception have an existence independent of the act of perception”. Realism is anything that exists and is observable, accessible or understandable.

Realism involves the believability of models on whether it is producing a reality with its characteristics, gestures, actions, interactions and so forth. Referring to the Uncanny Valley graph, the more human like an object, the familiarity increased, which meant it was that much closer to realism. When we reach the uncanny valley on the graph, we move further away from realism, and move closer to eerie and peculiar responses, but then right after we move closer to realism. I believe that as technology progresses, and then we are that much closer to realism and that much closer to creating human-like models. Motion capture, simulations and data driven animations are just a few ways of capturing ‘realism’. But of course each of these techniques have their pros and cons, some work better than the other.

A great example would be the depictions of the character’s eyes and skin in the movie The Polar Express compared to the characters in the film The Incredibles. The animators of The Polar Express attempted to create more human like characters by means of computer generated imagery but with a few errors failed to express the characters as human like, but rather doll like. This created a repugnance reaction from viewers. A number of ideologies have been suggested in order to evade the uncanny valley.

These include “Design elements should match in human realism (Goets, Kiesler, Powers, 2003), appearance and behaviour should match ability and human facial proportions and photorealistic texture should only be used together (Bartneck, Kanda, Ishiguro Hagita, 2007)”. If these ideologies suggested were taken into account, than realism would be achieved. On the positive note, characters such as C-3PO from Star Wars who resembles a human-like depiction acquires optimistic responses because it is clearly not human. Without familiarity or human-likeness there is no realism. It is like A+B=C, as familiarity rises with these response of human-likeness only then realism originates.

3. Is the uncanny valley justifiable? Is there even really a valley? Has Masahiro Mori defended his argument in his hypothesis of the uncanny valley? “Even if the uncanny-valley conjecture isn’t science per se, scientists have widely tested the broader question of how human forms and behaviour are perceived (Gellar, 2008)”. Regardless of the fact that Mori’s theory was not scientific; the research completed was on human behaviour which is an important factor in Mori’s theory. Furthermore, David Hanson, a roboticist, added that although Mori theory was not considered a scientific theory, with the exception of his graph his theory developed as a scientific one.

However, contradicting Mori’s theory, Hanson published a paper validating the uncanny valley through experimentation. By way of proof, he published “Expanding the Aesthetic Possibilities for Humanoid Robots,” a paper describing three thought experiments that demonstrate the uncanny valley effect, its opposite, and a random distribution of “eeriness” that’s unrelated to characters’ perceived humanity (Gellar, 2008)”. In addition to the paper on experimentation, Mori presented a study showing a human actor portrayed more repulsive that a robot. He also included a small-scale study showing that test subjects found a certain real-life human (actor Mitch Cohen as “The Toxic Avenger”) to appear notably eerier than Hanson’s robot replica of Philip K. Dick (Gellar, 2008)”.

If a real human was found more repulsive than a robot replica, than what is this to say about the uncanny valley? Well, I believe there’s some truth to the uncanny valley, however it could also be an illusion with all of Hanson’s evidence. An example would be video games, although the players are created human-like, it does not seem eerie in any way and people still purchase the game for entertainment. I don’t agree with the hypothesis that extremely realistic but somewhat flawed models are responded to negatively by a majority.

The chart provided is highly unscientific and the uncanny listings are not at all realistic like zombies, puppets and corpses. Possibly there is another cause for our revulsion to corpses, perhaps our fear of death? Chaminade states that as anthropomorphism rise than the movements of the characters should slowly be seen as ‘natural’. Again contradicting with the uncanny valley, because the uncanny valley is not a linear pattern all along. If one were to sketch a graph on the basis of what Chaminade states, it would be a linear pattern.



* Green, R. D., MacDorman, K. F., Ho, C.-C., & Vasudevan, S. K. (2008). Sensitivity to the proportions of faces that vary in human likeness. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(5), 2456-2474.

* MacDorman, K. F., Vasudevan, S. K., & Ho, C.-C. (2009). Does Japan really have robot mania? Comparing attitudes by implicit and explicit measures. AI & Society, 23(4), 485-510.

* Gellar , T. (2008, August). Overcoming the uncanny valley. Retrieved from http://www.mova.com/pdf/IEEE_Computer_Graphics_Uncanny

* MacDorman, K. F. & Ishiguro, H. (2006). The uncanny advantage of using androids in cognitive science research. Interaction Studies, 7(3), 297-337.

* Goetz, J., Kiesler, S., & Powers, A. (2003). Matching robot appearance and behavior to tasks to improve human-robot cooperation. Proceedings of the Twelfth IEEE International Workshop on Robot and Human Interactive Communication. Lisbon, Portugal.

* Bartneck, C., Kanda, T., Ishiguro, H., & Hagita, N. (2007). Is the Uncanny Valley an Uncanny Cliff? Proceedings of the 16th IEEE, RO-MAN 2007, Jeju, Korea, pp. 368-373. DOI:10.1109/ROMAN.2007.4415111 html