VC readers, being eclectic polymaths, are likely to heard of the “Uncanny Valley” – the hypothesis advanced by roboticist Masahiro Mori that a ”person’s response to a humanlike robot would abruptly shift from empathy to revulsion as it approached, but failed to attain, a lifelike appearance. This descent into eeriness is known as the uncanny valley.” Mori’s article appeared more than 40 years in an obscure journal in Japan called Energy, but was never widely available in complete form in English. Last year, Automaton, IEEE/Spectrum’s robotics blog, published a complete translation of the article. I had never read it in full, and I thought it might interest VC readers. The notion of the Uncanny Valley has taken on greater importance as robots are gradually being developed that are intended to have greater human-machine interaction. And the article is important in its own right as part of the intellectual history of science and technology. Here is the editor’s introduction, from which the above quote is taken:
More than 40 years ago, Masahiro Mori, then a robotics professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, wrote an essay on how he envisioned people’s reactions to robots that looked and acted almost human. In particular, he hypothesized that a person’s response to a humanlike robot would abruptly shift from empathy to revulsion as it approached, but failed to attain, a lifelike appearance. This descent into eeriness is known as the uncanny valley. The essay appeared in an obscure Japanese journal calledEnergy in 1970, and in subsequent years it received almost no attention. More recently, however, the concept of the uncanny valley has rapidly attracted interest in robotics and other scientific circles as well as in popular culture. Some researchers have explored its implications for human-robot interaction and computer-graphics animation, while others have investigated its biological and social roots. Now interest in the uncanny valley should only intensify, as technology evolves and researchers build robots that look increasingly human. Though copies of Mori’s essay have circulated among researchers, a complete version hasn’t been widely available. This is the first publication of an English translation that has been authorized and reviewed by Mori.