The Uncanny Valley

io9.com had a contest recently for submitting a funny caption for this still from the new TV series, Caprica:

The winner was Joey Comeau, whose entry was, “Well, I think we’ve side-stepped our uncanny valley worries.”

Now, to many of you that will sound like sheer unfunny nonsense. But it represents an opportunity for all of us to learn about what the “Uncanny Valley Hypothesis” is. Proposed by Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori, it essentially states that the more human-like a robot appears, the more we like it…. until it looks a bit too human, then we think it’s just creepy… until it starts to look and behave almost exactly like a human, at which point we like it again. The graphs below are taken from an article by Dave Bryant:

As you can see, the “valley” is the point at which the graph dips down in each case.

Bryant makes the further case that these analyses are proxies for overall anthropomorphism, and might reliably predict people’s reactions to anything non-human that might resemble humans somewhat. It’s a good gauge for predicting a population’s reaction to a genuine alien presence. Bryant presents the following “uncanny valley” graph for overall anthropomorphism:

As Bryant puts it, this explains why we are horrified by human zombies, but enchanted by talking squirrels.