Scientists think they’ve figured out the “uncanny valley” – why humanoid robots creep us out


The uncanny valley is a theory that attempts to explain the feeling of uneasiness or creepiness we’ve all experienced when we see a video game, movie, or robot that looks extremely human. Video games, movies, and robotics are continually present us with creations that look more and more human-like. Have you ever seen The Polar Express or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Or perhaps you’ve played one of the many hyper-realistic video games out today or seen creepy Japanese androids. It’s often endearing when we see things act human, like the toys in Toy Story or R2D2, but the more human they look, the harder it is to not notice and get creeped out by the small ways they are not human. This uneasiness, or unlikability, is amplified with movement.

The phenomenon has often been explained using the graph below, which shows that there’s a point when our brain stops seeing something as a cute creation that mimics humanity and starts instead counting out its flaws and making us feel mighty unpleasant.

uncanny-valley-graphScientists now believe they’ve figured out what causes the uncanny valley response. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, used an MRI to scan the brains of 20 people as they were shown 12 videos of a hyper-realistic android robot doing things like waving, nodding, drinking water, and picking up a piece of paper, reports Science Daily. Then they were shown those same actions performed by a human that looked identical to the android (many androids are built in the image of their creator, it seems). Finally, the subjects watched that same android perform the tasks again, but this time without any of the fake skin or eyes–meaning the androids looked a lot less human and more robotic.

uncanny-valley-humanoid-android-with-creatorThe results suggests that the uneasiness we feel could be caused by a “perceptual mismatch between appearance and motion.” Basically, the brain seemed to negatively react like crazy when the robotic motions of the android didn’t match its human-like appearance.

“The brain doesn’t seem tuned to care about either biological appearance or biological motion per se,” said Saygin, an assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego. “What it seems to be doing is looking for its expectations to be met — for appearance and motion to be congruent.”

Unfortunately, we still don’t entirely know why our brain hates this inconsistency, but if movies and video games are any indication, our brains may be able to get used to the oddness of our human-like creations in time. Games like L.A. Noire have found success by somewhat reducing the uncanny valley effect by drastically improving the facial and body animation of its characters. Faster animation in motion-capture CGI films like the upcoming Spielberg film The Adventures of Tintin are also working around this odd phenomenon. Unfortunately, we don’t quite know if our brains will ever truly accept fake humanoids until they are completely indistinguishable from ourselves.

Have you experienced the uncanny valley? Does it not bother you anymore? Has it never bothered you?


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild bug lets Link ignore temperature effects

A newly discovered bug in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild allows players to max out both hearts and stamina. The glitch also disables temperature effects such as the heat of Death Mountain and the cold of Hebra.
Movies & TV

In the new Hellboy clip, a giant problem leaves our favorite demon unimpressed

Hellboy is returning to the big screen in April 2019, with Stranger Things actor David Harbour taking on the title role. Here's everything we know so far about the reboot of the franchise.

Here's our guide on how to progress through The Division 2 endgame

Your mission as an agent doesn't end after taking out the three main factions in The Division 2. The endgame brings the Black Tusks, a dangerous new faction, to D.C. Our endgame guide will help you on your quest for the best loot.

How to get the most out of agent builds and specializations in The Division 2

The Division 2 has an intricate loot system to let you fine tune your agent to fit your play style. In our builds and specializations guide, we'll walk you through all of the stats you should pay attention to when tinkering with gear.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!