When Voice Assistant spits out a phrase into a topic, it’s fun. But if the robot takes on “flesh and blood”, smiles and communicates almost like a human, we feel uncomfortable.
What is the essence of the ominous valley effect.
The Eerie Valley Effect is the hypothesis that a robot, or any other object that looks or behaves like a human, causes dislike and disgust among human observers. It is not the resemblance itself that scares you, but any deviation from the norm in behavior – for example, inhibited facial expressions.
For the first time, Japanese robotics scientist Masahiro Mori spoke about the “sinister valley effect”. In 1970, he wrote an essay, Bukimi No Tani, and eight years later the title of his work was translated into English as Uncanny Valley. Mori put forward an idea: the more we try to make robots look like people, the more rejection they will cause. This will continue until it is possible to overcome the hypothetical failure, designated as the “sinister valley”.
Since the publication of Mori’s essay, scientists have repeatedly conducted studies to confirm or disprove the hypothesis. For example, at Indiana University, a group of people was interviewed, offering to rate androids of varying degrees of “humanity.” Most researchers agreed that it is too early to talk about the effect of the ominous valley: there is not enough evidence. But since 2018, the effect has begun to be confirmed more and more often. For example, a publication by the University of Helsinki indicated that the phenomenon has become more resilient. Until now, not a single robot has been able to cross this “valley”.
Which robots scare us and which don’t.
Not every android is capable of giving goosebumps. For this to happen, we must subconsciously believe that there is a person in front of us. Then any oversight – unnatural speech, a twitching smile or a strange expression of emotion – can lead to the “effect of an ominous valley.”
One of the most realistic robots in the world, Geminoid DK (pictured), can be confused with a person if you see him in the photo. But in movement, his facial expressions can create eerie sensations. In addition, the “sinister valley effect” can be caused by:
frozen face: if the android looks very realistic – up to moles and drops of sweat on the forehead, but at the same time closed his eyes and does not move, our psyche may decide that we have a corpse in front of us;
articulation of speech:
– when the robot does not speak words with its mouth, it seems that they are coming from somewhere outside;
– jerky movements, unrealistic emotions;
– unnatural mechanical speech.
German scientists have found an area of the brain that is responsible for the “sinister valley effect.” It is located in the prefrontal cortex – the area through which a person can think. One part of the cortex tries to separate people from non-people, and the other, based on this, assesses whether this subject is pleasing to the brain. This means that if one day scientists create a robot that the brain cannot distinguish from a person, the “sinister valley effect” will not occur.
Why anthropomorphic robots scare us
Scientists still disagree about why we have mixed feelings about humanoid robots. Let’s look at the main reasons.
Influence of threat perception theory. People subconsciously feel threatened by an unknown object. Historian Minsoo Kang suggested that this could cause cognitive dissonance when seeing an android. On the one hand, he looks and behaves like a person, on the other, he retains the habits of the machine. It is not clear to which category such a realistic robot should be assigned – hence the anxiety and dislike.
Inability to empathize. People are used to showing empathy for living things. To do this, they need to recognize their emotions and compare with their own. But not all manifestations in the behavior and speech of the robot can be identified. As a result, people experience anxiety: it seems that control over the situation is crumbling. This hypothesis was put forward by
the researcher Katrin Misselhorn. In her opinion, due to the impossibility of empathizing with the robot, the “sinister valley effect” is most felt when the android is very close to us.
Inability to get adequate feedback. Scientist Angela Tinwell believes that the problem is not that humans cannot empathize with the robot, but that it itself cannot show empathy. If a human-like living thing is incapable of emotional feedback — for example, it cannot laugh at your joke or nod its head when you’re telling a story — that’s intimidating. People can perceive such a robot as a psychopath, who can do anything, because emotions are alien to him
When developing robots-geminoids, it is necessary to overcome the “sinister valley effect”, when the robot – at least in terms of physiological characteristics in statics and dynamics – will not differ from a human. This is a complex and time-consuming approach: according to Magid, it will take at least another 20-30 years before we see the first anthropomorphic robots that are able to maintain the user’s admiration for a long time.
The scientist expects mass production of such robots no earlier than the end of the XXI century.