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Mapping the ­ncanny Valley

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Star Wars robots

Credit: The Picture Desk

University of North Carolina researcher Kurt Gray and Harvard University researcher Daniel Wegner speculate that experience plays a crucial role in generating the uncanny valley effect.

The researchers theorized that adding human-like eyes and facial expressions to robots conveys emotions where viewers do not expect emotion to be present, causing unease among humans. The researchers tested their theory by presenting 45 volunteers with a questionnaire about the Delta-Cray supercomputer. One-third were told the machine was "like a normal computer but much more powerful," another third heard it was capable of experience by being told it could feel emotions, and the remaining third were told it was capable of "self-control and the capacity to plan ahead."

The researchers found that people were not fazed by a supercomputer that was much more powerful than other computers or that was capable of planning ahead. However, people presented with the idea of a computer capable of experiencing emotions were unnerved. The researchers believe their findings argue that a big part of the uncanny valley effect stems from expectations not being met.

From The Economist
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Abstracts Copyright © 2012 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA 


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