Hiroshi Ishiguro is Bridging the Uncanny Valley


The Uncanny Valley is one of my favourite Science Fiction-related constructs (how much of a capital-G Geek do you have to be to have a favourite Science Fiction-related construct? This much!). For those who are unfamiliar, I recommend viewing the Succession episode of 30 Rock (Wikipedia summary), in which Frank explains the Uncanny Valley to Tracy, using Star Wars analogies, as his primary reason why it’s impossible to make a pornographic video game. Really, I just recommend 30 Rock in general.

If you don’t feel like watching an episode of one of the funniest shows on television, here’s a brief summary. The Uncanny Valley construct was proposed by another Japanese robotics researcher, Masahiro Mori, in 1970. The basic theory is that you can graph humans’ increasingly warm emotional response to robots as a function of the humanlikeness of the robots until a certain point, after which they become eerily lifelike and we freak the hell out:

Uncanny Valley diagram from Wikipedia

Uncanny Valley diagram from Wikipedia

I should note, at this point, that I equate zombies with freakin’ the hell out in case you missed that point in the graph. Those crazy Japanese scientists long ago passed the “humanoid robot” point (think C3-PO), but it wasn’t until today that I saw a robot that was more bunraku than prosthetic hand. Hiroshi Ishiguro, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, has unveiled — well — himself.

The most remarkable thing about that video is host’s observation that she eventually forgot she was talking to a robot. Sure, it’s not autonomous and is remote controlled by a human, but that’s really just some good AI away from being Lieutenant Commander Data. And just for the record, I had to go look his official title up, so maybe it’s little-g geek after all.


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