Ce n’est pas un être humain: The Uncanny Valley, Human Experience and ‘Sensorship’

Mike is a Robot

Between the unveiling of Pepper, the introduction of Otonaroid and Kodomoroid and the (very justified) hype surrounding Cynthia Brezeal’s Jibo campaign, The Uncanny Valley has been in the news quite a bit lately. Of course, as a roboticist and a human, the subject greatly piques my interests. I’m thrilled to see the field tackling things like what robots should look like, how people will react to humanoid robots in the home as permanent fixtures and if it is even moral or ethical to pursue such things as making a mechanized human clone.

In addition to the strictly HRI aspect of the Uncanny Valley’s familiarity disconnect, I’ve read about it in relation to sexual attraction, evolution and even Twitter bots (really).

One article which really struck me brought the Uncanny Valley to its furthest conceivable limit. Entitled ‘The Uncanniest Valley‘, Steven Kotler of Forbes imagines what happens not only as robotic mimicry of human looks is perfected, but also what happens when perfect emulation of the human experience occurs. What happens when our robots and A.I. outperform us, outlive us and, finally, out-know us better than we know ourselves? Steven posits that this will, perhaps, cause us “a nearly unstoppable fear reaction—a brand new kind of mortal terror, the downstream result of what happens when self loses its evolutionarily unparalleled understanding of self.”

One can certainly see us faced with an uncertain and unprecedented future once this threshold is crossed. Where do we go from there? We either accept ‘evolution’, letting nature take its course, our fate in the hands of something greater, or we use it as a learning experience: Steven is extremely optimistic, writing “It’s not hard to imagine that our journey to this valley will be fortuitous. For certain, the better we know ourselves—and it doesn’t really matter where that knowledge comes from—the better we can care for and optimize ourselves.” Considering the advancements in robotics / A.I., memory storage and sensors over the past 10 years even, the general scenarios above seem like a possibility (though whether true A.I. is 10, 50 or 100 years away is constantly under heavy debate). If it will be as beneficial is hard to say; after all, there’s been nothing like it before.


One glaring question resulting from the article is ‘why does the animal kingdom not know such fear in the face of humans?’ We, perhaps, understand animals better than they know themselves, humans being (mostly) of greater intelligence. However, in the article, ‘knowing oneself’ is not simply knowing ‘about’ oneself (physical characteristics, dietary needs, pet peeves). Rather, it is knowing, from the perspective of the entity, and limited or enhanced by all of its sensory traits therein, what it is to be said being.

I believe that we are on the cusp of being able to achieve different, fully-immersive levels of experience. Emerging VR devices such as the Oculus Rift and mechanical-assistive machines such as exoskeletons will allow us to explore what existence is like from the sensory perspective of other, dissimilar beings. By their powers combined, it is now possible to completely alter every human sense at once. Augmenting or subduing input (sensory deprivation or ‘sensorship’, as I call it) in specific combinations will allow us to craft tailor-made experiences of other beings.

Using such methods, we might hope to gain insight into a multitude of worlds that have hitherto been hidden from us. This could lead us to greater knowledge and especially empathy as a dominant species. Who knows, it might even lessen the impact of the Uncanniest Valley by giving us a leg up on our future all-knowing creations.


Battle For The Net

If you woke up tomorrow, and your internet looked like this, what would you do? Imagine all your favorite websites taking forever to load, while you get annoying notifications from your ISP suggesting you switch to one of their approved “Fast Lane” sites.Think about what we would lose: all the weird, alternative, interesting, and enlightening stuff that makes the Internet so much cooler than mainstream Cable TV. What if the only news sites you could reliably connect to were the ones that had deals with companies like Comcast and Verizon?On September 10th, just a few days before the FCC’s comment deadline, public interest organizations are issuing an open, international call for websites and internet users to unite for an “Internet Slowdown” to show the world what the web would be like if Team Cable gets their way and trashes net neutrality. Net neutrality is hard to explain, so our hope is that this action will help SHOW the world what’s really at stake if we lose the open Internet.If you’ve got a website, blog or tumblr, get the code to join the #InternetSlowdown here: https://battleforthenet.com/sept10thEveryone else, here’s a quick list of things you can do to help spread the word about the slowdown: http://tumblr.fightforthefuture.org/post/96020972118/be-a-part-of-the-great-internet-slowdown Get creative! Don’t let us tell you what to do. See you on the net September 10th!

via Battle For The Net.


The DRC Finals are coming!




Robot - DRC_final

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San Fransokyo? I’m in!

Robots? Comedy? Japan?

Disney seems to be making a movie just for me. After watching the below trailer for ‘Big Hero 6’ (based on the Marvel Comics series), I am super excited:

The Robot — Collaborative! Fluffy, air-filled, able to work safely with and around humans.

The Comedy — Genuine laughs from the trailer and genuine comedic talent (Scott Adsit, Maya Rudolph).

The Japan — Serious Japanese / Asian overtones, including a villain ‘in a Kabuki mask’ (reminiscent of Legend of Korra’s Amon), heroes named after Japanese foods (‘Tamogo’ ~ tamago, wasabi), Japanese katakana, buildings and more!

Super excited for Nov. 7th!

This is Probably a Good Time to Say That I Don’t Believe Robots Will Eat All the Jobs …

Marc Andreessen

Image; Tobias Higbie Image: Tobias Higbie


One of the most interesting topics in modern times is the “robots eat all the jobs” thesis. It boils down to this: Computers can increasingly substitute for human labor, thus displacing jobs and creating unemployment. Your job, and every job, goes to a machine.

This sort of thinking is textbook Luddism, relying on a “lump-of-labor” fallacy – the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done. The counterargument to a finite supply of work comes from economist Milton Friedman — Human wants and needs are infinite, which means there is always more to do. I would argue that 200 years of recent history confirms Friedman’s point of view.

If the Luddites had it wrong in the early 19th century, the only way their line of reasoning works today is if you believe this time is…

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