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The Uncanny Valley

A robot reading

A bunch of engineers are trying to create really life-like robots. They want them to be so lifelike that noone can tell they are robots just like in science-fiction films like 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence'. We can now make robots look really, really life-like...as long as they don't move.

The trouble is when they move they really creep people out. Looking human is about more than just what a still robot looks like. In fact humans find it hard to be totally still - try it. Our faces make very subtle movements. We expect robots to move like people if they look like people.

Friend or Freak?

As we make robots look like human machines, with metal faces, arms and legs we like them more and more, and think of them as cute. We are perfectly happy with them as long as they both look and move like robots. Take C3PO from Star Wars. He is all shiny metal and clunky movements but we like him. As we make robots look more and more human though, it gets creepy and we start to feel something is wrong. The robot starts to feel more like a monster than a freind. It is only when the robot's movements become exactly like a human's right that we relax again. Robotic researchers call this 'the uncanny valley'.