The uncanny valley has kindled debate among roboticists for more than 35 years—and more recently computer graphics jocks have joined this ongoing discussion about whether their creations will end up scaring people. Envisaged in 1970 by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, the concept implies that whereas cartoonish or other abstract human figures draw immediate empathy, robots or animations that appear similar to humans (but not identical) provoke a sense of unease.
In an otherwise human-looking robot or animation, a stilted arm or eye movement—or perhaps a halting gesture in landing a kiss in Tracy Jordan’s porn game—creates an eerie sensation. This feeling is represented by a sharp dip on a graph, an “uncanny valley” in which the observer’s comfort level with the artificial character diminishes drastically. In Mori’s view, a full ascent out of the valley occurs only when robots become indistinguishable from humans.