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For Readers: The Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Valley

Today’s reader topic comes from QSFer Aidee Ladnier:

Why aren’t there more depictions of the uncanny valley? Do we really want AI and robots that we can’t distinguish from humans?

OK, there are a couple ideas here, so let me unpack this a little. For those who are unaware, the “uncanny valley” is an idea of robotics professor Masahiro Mori. Basically, people can feel an affinity for robots that are not too human. But there comes a point where a robot approaches humanlike appearance, movement, etc, but is not quite there, that becomes quite disturbing. Wikipedia describes it this way:

In aesthetics the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost but not exactly like real human beings elicits feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers. Valley denotes a dip in the human observer’s affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica’s human likeness.

The other idea here is the fact that we may one day be able to “cross” this valley, and make robots who are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of us, which could have profound societal impacts.

So my questions to you today: Have you read any speculative fiction stories that dealt with the uncanny valley or the issue of lifelike robots? What issues did they bring up? What were some of your favorites?

Writers: This is a reader chat – you are welcome to join it, but please do not reference your own works directly. Thanks!

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