The Uncanny Valley

Grown-up? Child? Both?
Grown-up? Child? Both?

Have you ever read/heard the term “The Uncanny Valley”?

It refers to the way the human brain perceives the slight differences between real human beings, or real living creatures, and the not-quite-there facsimiles created with rubber plastic and clay or in computer generated 3d animations.

Reborn Dolls are pretty scary as they really do resemble human babies
Reborn Dolls are pretty scary as they really do resemble human babies

The small differences in looks, or movements, or even behavior, may cause revulsion in us humans when we see it.

Why? that’s the million dollar question.

Hand in hand? Inside hand?
Hand in hand? Inside hand?

It’s that fine line between what our brains “see” as real – something that conforms with what we’re accustomed to look at as “normal” – and the obviously fake and artificially generated. It can be a doll, a photo, a humanoid robot, or anything else that doesn’t quite fit the bill of “normal”.

But how do we decide what is normal and what is not? some say that it has to do with the correct geometry and aspect ratio of the human/animal body/face. The ratio determining the distance between the eyes, the size and proportions of the nose, ears, eyes and even hair line and forehead.

Sometimes it simply has to do with motion. You might see a perfect replica of a human being, but the second that replica starts to move or speak, you can tell it’s not the real thing. It may be too slow, too fast, or even just too clumsy to be a real human.

But times are changing, and the too-real-to-tell is practically here. Mostly in computer games, and films. Most of the CGI effects in films and TV today are pretty seamless and are very difficult to tell from the regular shots. You can still see some difference at times, but the more budget a film has, the less chance you’ll see that disturbing change from what you think is real.

Do you think we’ve crossed the uncanny valley, or are we still mid-travel?



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