Chapter

Collective Agency and Cooperation in Natural and Artificial Systems

Volume 122 of the series Philosophical Studies Series pp 81-107

Historical, Cultural, and Aesthetic Aspects of the Uncanny Valley

  • Valentin SchwindAffiliated withInstitute of Visualization and Interactive Systems (VIS), University of Stuttgart/Stuttgart Media University Email author 

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Abstract

Artificial entities and systems are often designed according to human expectations, simulating human appearance, and behavior to improve social interactions between people and machines. The Uncanny Valley – first described by the roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970 – causes an eerie feeling when people observe or interact with an anthropomorphic artificial character. This effect distorts smooth interaction or an emotional connection between humans and artificial figures. Associations between eeriness and human-like appearance or behavior can be seen in literature and art throughout all epochs of mankind’s history. This article focuses on examples from the human past that correlate with the eerie impact of artificial, human-like figures. A review of the history reveals that the Uncanny Valley is connected to aspects that have rarely been discussed: intentions, aesthetics, and cultural context. From the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, fantasies of Pygmalion, demons of the Dark Ages, horror figures from romanticism up to the androids and zombies of today’s entertainment – human-like appearances as such or those in our imagination trigger both astonishment and discomfort. Therefore, we will see that the Uncanny Valley is jointly responsible for the negative image of artificial characters and continues to prevent a smooth social interaction until today.

Keywords

Uncanny valley Androids Cultural and historical context Aesthetic function Media