Hello good people of Robots Podcast forum!
My name is Johan Eklund. I'm a psychologist and have written a thesis about our psychological reactions to robots. Early in the research for my thesis I naturally came across Masahiro Moris hypothesis about "the uncanny valley". In this way my thesis became a critical examination of Moris hypothesis. The short version is that I argue for an abandonment of "the uncanny valley" and the need for a more nuanced view of human reactions on humanlike robots.
Before I give you the long version, let me say that I'm posting this with the hope that you might comment with your qualified thoughts.
Now, the long version:
By reviewing the empirical investigations in the field I examined our reactions on three levels: immediate, mediated and reflective reactions.
To access the “immediate” reactions on robots, I have reviewed literature on both facial attractiveness and on experiments with “the uncanny valley” that used static images. From these reviews, I argue that the "near-realistic" robot face can elicit negative reactions, such as disgust, but that it is by no means unavoidable. By careful selection of facial features with high symmetry, averageness, and slightly enlarged features it is possible to create a near-realistic robot that does not elicit negative reactions on the immediate level.
In my section on the “mediated” reactions on robots I explain and discuss higher cognitive reactions towards robots. I explain how our above mentioned immediate reactions towards the robot "as if it were alive" can create a dissonance with our mediated knowledge of the robot's artificial nature.
On the reflective level the illusion of the "living" robot can be so rich and compelling that it can challenge our notion of “humanity” and our existential defense: "if this object (the robot) is alive, aren't I just an object as well?". This can challenge our existential defenses and elicit existential anxiety on the reflective level. The mediated and reflective reactions are not unavoidable ones, but they are more difficult to overcome and cannot be mediated by better design of the robot. To overcome some of the cognitive and reflective reactions would require prolonged exposure to near- realistic robots so that one’s cognitive schemes can be adjusted or new ones constructed. An alternative would be to circumvent the challenge of our existential defense by treating the robot as a human.
Our more positive reaction to the abstract (or less familiar, in Mori's words) robot is also examined. This aspect of Mori's hypothesis is validated and I add a missing theoretical explanation with foundations in Scott McClouds examination of the comic as a media.
I conclude that a more nuanced view of human reactions on robots is needed. I see the hypothesis of “the uncanny valley” as on par with ancient teleological explanations of “fire as seeking to reach back to the sun”. An explanation which serves one fine in simple usages, say fry an egg. But if one is to harness the power of fire to reach the stars, the simple hypothesis leaves you helpless. Analogous to the old hypothesis of fire, the hypothesis of the “uncanny valley” seems to work well in the design of the abstract robot, but leaves you helpless when walking into the minefield of heterogeneous reactions to the humanlike robot. Mori's hypothesis must therefore be rejected as a first step to a more differentiated view of human reactions to the humanlike robot.
I'm looking forward to your comments!
Thanks for your interest!
(You can also contact me on twitter. Username: LowImagination)