/* ---- Google Analytics Code Below */

Friday, July 29, 2022

Considering the Uncanny Valley

Often considered, we did in building early interactions with consumers.

Crossing the Uncanny Valley,    By Logan Kugler

Communications of the ACM, August 2022, Vol. 65 No. 8, Pages 14-15    10.1145/3542817

In 1970, robotics expert Masahiro Mori first described the effect of the "uncanny valley," a concept that has had a massive impact on the field of robotics. The uncanny valley, or UV, effect, describes the positive and negative responses that human beings exhibit when they see human-like objects, specifically robots.

The UV effect theorizes that our empathy towards a robot increases the more it looks and moves like a human. However, at some point, the robot or avatar becomes too lifelike, while still being unfamiliar. This confuses the brain's visual processing systems. As a result, our sentiment about the robot plummets deeply into negative emotional territory.

Yet where the uncanny valley really has an impact is on how humans engage with robots in modern times, an impact that has been proven to change how we see human-like automatons.

In a 2016 research paper in Cognition, Maya Mathur and David Reichling discussed their study of human reactions to robot faces and digitally composed faces. What they found was that the uncanny valley existed across these reactions. They even found that the uncanny valley effect influenced whether or not humans found the robots and digital avatars trustworthy.

"How the uncanny valley has already impacted the design and direction of robots is clear; it has slowed progress," says Karl MacDorman, a professor of human-computer interaction at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). "The uncanny valley has operated as a kind of dogma to keep robot designers from exploring a high degree of human likeness in human–robot interaction."

To MacDorman and others, the uncanny valley must be dealt with in order to accelerate the adoption of robots in social settings.

More Human, More Problems

For clues as to why, researchers Christine Looser and Thalia Wheatley, then both of Dartmouth College, in 2010 evaluated human responses to a range of simulated faces. The faces ranged in realism from fully human-like to fully doll-like. The researchers found participants stopped viewing a face as doll-like and considered it human when it was 65% or more human-like.

Companies that develop robots now consider findings like this and take active steps to stop the UV effect from impacting how the market receives their technology. One way they do that is by sidestepping the uncanny valley entirely, says Alex Diel, a researcher at Cardiff University's School of Psychology who studies the uncanny valley effect.

"Many companies avoid the uncanny valley altogether by using a mechanical, rather than a human-like, appearance and motion," says Diel. That means companies intentionally remove human-like features, like realistic faces or eyes, from robots—or engineer their movements to be clearly non-human.

One example of this approach is the Tesla Bot, a concept robot unveiled by the electric car manufacturer. While humanoid, the robot has been designed without a face, which makes certain the human brain's facial processing systems will not see it as a deviant version of a human face, says Diel.

Another way companies mitigate the effect of the uncanny valley is by designing robots to be cartoon-like, which helps them appear humanlike and appealing, without becoming too realistic. Diel points to Pepper, a congenial-looking robot manufactured by SoftBank Robotics, as a product that takes this route.

"Cuteness can't be overrated," says Sarah Weigelt, a neuropsychologist researching neural bases of visual perception at the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences of TU Dortmund University in Germany. "If something is cute, you do not fear it and want to interact with it."

If companies can't make a robot cute, they'll often make obvious that it's not a human in some other way. Some companies do this by changing skin tones to non-human colors, or leaving mechanical parts of a robot's body intentionally and clearly exposed, Weigelt says. This averts any confusion that this strange object could be human, sidestepping the UV effect.

While companies work hard to avoid falling into the valley, sometimes they try to pass through the valley and climb out the other side by making robots indistinguishable from humans. However, this presents its own set of problems, says MacDorman.   .... ' 

No comments: