Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Halloween 2.0 - the Uncanny Valley

Ghosts and goblins not getting you in the mood for Halloween anymore? Jump into the uncanny valley!
Horror movies have been using it successfully for years, while human like robots and cgi can't crawl out of it (at least not yet). It is the uncanny valley and its a real spook show...

The term was first used by roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. When he first started making his robots more human the reception by others was pleasant, but when he continued to improve on their human likeness the reception went sour as people were freaked out. He realized then that his robots had fallen into the "uncanny valley", and wouldn't escape until they achieved nearly perfect human likeness.

We will overcome this valley as good cgi is almost indistinguishable from real human footage today already. Getting our robots out of the valley is going to be a lot harder, but I'm sure they will get there sometime after they pass the Turing test. Horror fans will surely miss the valley, but don't fret, it will be back!

We will see the return of the uncanny valley in humans 2.0
Imagine looking into my iris to see a lens zooming in and out, or watching my knees bend backwards to run faster. These are possibilities we may see in future transhumanists, and to witness a human 2.0 today would surely appear uncanny. But will we still be freaked out or will it be the norm? Surely the bold ones to first adopt such changes will get ridiculed by luddites, but I'm sure the shock value is what some of them are looking for anyway. Today many people often modify their bodies with tattoos, piercings and even skull spiked implants to stand out from the crowd. In the future it will not just be a fashion statement but also a functional upgrade.

When we have transcended biology so far we aren't even recognizable as a biological being, the uncanny valley will disappear again. But by then, who knows what, if any, will be our standard of natural appearance. Surely by then our minds will have matured as much as our bodies.

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