Wednesday, 11 March 2009

On Uncanny Valley

By Masahiro Mori, Mukta Research Institute.

It is my great honor and pleasure to hear that the workshop on the notion of uncanny valley, which I proposed thirty-five years ago, is held to discuss the subject in various aspects including neuroscience, pattern recognition, artificial intelligence, psychology, and sociology. Unfortunately, another meeting where I have to be the chair prevents me from attending the workshop. So, here I make two brief comments on this subject from my present point of view to make up for my absence.

(1) A dead person's face may indeed be uncanny: it loses color and animation with no blinking. However, according to my experience, sometimes it gives us a more comfortable impression than the one given by a living person's face. Dead persons are free from the troubles of life, and I think this is the reason why their faces look so calm and peaceful. In our mind there is always an antinomic conflict that if you take one thing you will lose the other. Such a conflict appears on one's face as troubles, and makes his, or her, expression less comfortable. When a person dies he, or she, is released from this antinomy, and has a quiet expression. If so, then, where should we position this on the curve of the uncanny valley? This is an issue of my current interest.

(2) Once I positioned living human beings on the highest point of the curve in the right-hand side of the uncanny valley. Recently, however, I came to think that there is something more attractive and amiable than human beings in the further right-hand side of the valley. It is the face of a Buddhist statue as the artistic expression of the human ideal. You will find such a face, for example, in Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya Bodhisattva) in Kohryuji in Kyoto, or in Miroku Bosatsu in Chuguji and in Gakkoh Bosatsu (Candraprabha) in Yakushiji in Nara. Those faces are full of elegance, beyond worries of life, and have aura of dignity. I think those are the very things that should be positioned on the highest point of the curve.

While I introduced the notion of the uncanny valley, I have not examined it closely so far. I hope the above-mentioned two respects will help the further research of the uncanny valley.

August 18, 2005

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