The Uncanny Valley Is Now Scientific Fact

The Uncanny Valley Is Now Scientific Fact

The notion of the “Uncanny Valley”, where artificial people are more disturbing the closer they come to “reality”, has been around for ages. But now, thanks to a research team in San Diego, it’s bonafide science.

As reported on Wired, The University of California confronted twenty test subjects with a variety of videos showing a very special kind of robot performing basic actions. That robot is the Repliee Q2, from Osaka University, which is based on an actual person and is capable of a wide range of intricate facial expressions.

Three sets of footage were compiled: one of Repliee “naked”, her wiring and internal components exposed, one of the robot with her “human face” on and a third of the actual human being the robot is based on performing the same functions.

While the subjects were shown the footage, they were wired to an fMRI machine, which showed that while things were fine during the human and naked robot demonstrations, when they watched Repliee with her artificial face on, their brains freaked out.

It seems the issue was with our brains not liking the disparity between superficial human appearance and robotic actions. It expects human things to act human, and when they don’t, it throws up a flag.

As the Uncanny Valley is such a common problem in video games, the team’s findings make you wonder whether developers are going about overcoming it the right way. If it’s all in the motion maybe they need to worry more about the way a game character moves (in particular their faces) instead of how well they’re textured.

Exploring the uncanny valley of how brains react to humanoids [Wired]


  • The Uncanny Valley isn’t a common problem in videogames. I can’t even think of a moment when it was a single problem.

      • im so sick of shit like that. now unless shepard is in thost pose for like 10 fucking seconds, 9 out of ten times no one would notice it. hell the only way a normal person could get that screen shot is by recording and then slowing down the replay, but hell you can get shit like that from any movie real or gci or animated

      • Ahahaha thank you so much for posting that, not only a perfect example of uncanny valley but that made me laugh so friggin hard haha! made for a Good ending to a bad day. Cheers man!! 😀

      • Hahaha, that is brilliant. Another problem is that humans pull many strange expressions, but they’re generally only for a split second and lead into another expression (like a crossfade), where as in video games that effect doesn’t work as well…

        I thought that Lost Planet 2’s animations (no facial animations though, perhaps a smart move!) were pretty life like, and that there were real people behind the movements.

  • I always felt it was more how ‘into’ the game you were. If the story and the world and the characters were realistic and likeable then I am much less likely to notice any face deformities, unless they’re extreme like some of the early Fallout: New Vegas clips I’ve seen

  • LA Noire is a good example of this, the face models are relatively low-poly compared to a lot of games today; but the mo-cap of very natural small expressions more than made up for it

  • I felt Enslaved managed to overcome this pretty well, not sure how, but they really nailed the facial animation, but yeah Half Life is a good choice of pic, those faces don’t look right.

  • Does anyone else have the picture of that japanese receptionist robot, that has a lot of facial features….in their mind?
    I just sat here for 5 minutes thinking about that robot’s face.

  • “If it’s all in the motion maybe they need to worry more about the way a game character moves (in particular their faces) instead of how well they’re textured.”
    I don’t think this is news to anybody, but it’s good to see science backing up what we all feel.

    Mo-cap has been injecting greater realism into videogames since Mortal Kombat – unless there’s a prior title I’m not aware of!

  • EazyR beat me to it, but I find it intrigueing that the brain has a defense mechanism for things that look extremely close to human but aren’t.

    BODY SNATCHERS? VAMPIRES? OUR ROBOTIC GODS? Don’t let scientology get a whiff of this, they’ll realize they’re right!

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