The History of the Uncanny Valley?

by John Holbo on April 9, 2018

I’m tracking the history of the cross-disciplinary uptake and general popularization of the concept of the uncanny valley. The term was coined in 1970 by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, in a paper entitled “The Uncanny Valley”, that did not get attention at the time. Its first English occurrence is in 1978, in Robots: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction [amazon], by Jasia Reichardt. I don’t have a copy. Reichardt, apparently, coins the translation of the Japanese title, giving us our name for the concept. Wikipedia suggests Reichardt hit on it without awareness of the Jentsch-Freud precedent. But here’s a (2009) paper that speculates that Reichardt might have intended to make the link. It seems a bit … serendipitous that a Polish-English art critic, with an interest in cybernetics, would know to pluck an utterly obscure Japanese-language paper out of oblivion. So presumably the paper got independent traction in robotics circles between 1970 and 1978, bringing it to Reichardt’s attention? Or maybe Reichardt indeed knows Japanese and very perceptively saved it from obscurity? If so, does the paper’s currency in Japan result from it first having traveled abroad, in 1978? Is Reichardt the reason this paper didn’t disappear? I would be curious to know.

Next puzzle. The paper got its first English translation only in 2005, for a major conference; then it got retranslated, more carefully, only in 2012. Read an interview with Mori here. These days everyone knows about it. But have I, personally, only known the term ‘uncanny valley’ since the mid-2000’s? My perhaps false memory is that it had a somewhat esoteric ‘cyberpunk’ currency, going further back to the 90’s at least. Didn’t William Gibson or Bruce Stering hip us to this concept already in some Mondo 2000 sort of way? Or did I just learn about it from reading BoingBoing 12 years ago? (Belle says: she thinks we got it from BoingBoing. She’s probably right.)

Anyone who has seen Ridley’s Scott’s Blade Runner – also, Alien – and gets it, gets the uncanny valley. So, in a sense, the uncanny valley has been taken well on-board in science fiction visual design since the early 80’s. Scott seems to have done his design work intuitively, without any theory of what he was up to, or why it works. I doubt he read Freud – let alone Heidegger or Masahiro Mori. (But I would be happy to learn otherwise.)

Speaking of Freud and Heidegger: they both discuss das Unheimliche, of course. Discussions of ‘the uncanny’ in the humanities – in literary studies in particular – tend to orbit around Freud. Or Heidegger. Or Derrida (‘hauntology’). Or Walter Benjamin. This really only started in the 1970’s. Before 1970’s no one paid much attention to that little essay by Freud, or that concept in Heidegger. Am I wrong?

There’s a whole book by Nicholas Royle about ‘the uncanny’ [amazon], expounded from a Freudian point of view – with a lot of literary theory stuff. And a new book about ‘the uncanny’ in Heidegger, by Katherine Withy – here’s a review. (In case you want a whole book on either subject.)

But I’m curious, specifically, about the history of ‘the uncanny valley’, as a term in general use. Have we only had it for about a decade at this point?

{ 56 comments }

1

floopmeister 04.09.18 at 1:31 am

Oh, you mean like ?

2

floopmeister 04.09.18 at 1:31 am

Bloody hyperlinks…

:)

3

John Constantine 04.09.18 at 1:39 am

All of the “weirdlings” in every mythos ever.

4

Nick Caldwell 04.09.18 at 1:50 am

Ridley Scott went to art school to train as a designer (fun side-note, if not for a schedule clash he’d have been the guy who designed the Daleks) so it’s not inconceivable that he studied a bit of Freud.

Early/mid 2000s was when I first stumbled across the term and I definitely didn’t get a sense from my reading that it had wide currency then.

5

Plarry 04.09.18 at 2:00 am

The axes in Mori’s original thesis are not well-defined. Attempts to control for them well sometimes produce an effect like he hypothesized, but often not. As for the timeline, I don’t know; there are definitely articles written about it before 2005. Here’s a 2002 survey paper that talks about it.

6

floopmeister 04.09.18 at 2:01 am

fun side-note, if not for a schedule clash he’d have been the guy who designed the Daleks

But only, presumably, if he was sitting in the BBC canteen when he did so?

http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/news/a20973/daleks-designer-was-paid-just-80/

:)

7

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 2:06 am

I should have been clearer that Ridley Scott is not the first person to invent spooky, weird creatures. Obviously not. He’s the first to perfect spooky, weird robots, visually. In “Alien” I had in mind not the alien but Ash, whose little stutterstep, when he’s by himself, is one of the great demonstrations of the Jentsch-Freud proposition that a touch of machine-like epilepsy is a mark of the uncanny. Obviously “Metropolis” got there first, with the False Maria. But Ridley Scott brings this aesthetic to more or less complete perfection by 1982. His replicants are extremely uncanny, to the point where one doubts if there are all that many new tricks to be learned, in practice. As to Ridley Scott as designer: I don’t know whether I’ve listened to his director’s track for “Blade Runner” but I listened to the whole one for “Alien” and the man talks about almost nothing but the design of scenes and surfaces. He obviously sees primarily – if not exclusively – in a design-y way. I remember thinking, listening to it: it’s a wonder he remembers to talk to the actors and tell them what to do. Obviously he must be able to do that. But he is a very unphilosophical guy, in that he seems not very ‘idea’ driven. Rather, it’s all atmosphere as a function of design decisions.

8

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 2:26 am

That’s great about the Daleks! A Ridley Scott Dalek would have changed history in inconceivable – from our universe – ways.

9

floopmeister 04.09.18 at 4:17 am

OT, but wanted to add something to your list of doors and the comments have closed…

I was stunned that no one mentioned Beyond the Wall of Sleep by Lovecraft.

Also, re. ‘wall’ imagery in the Bible, it is worth remembering the very nature of the Eden myth as ‘a walled garden’, into which comes evil (and after which the inhabitants are expelled). The concept grows out of the pairidaeza or ‘walled garden’ of Persian myth, from which comes ‘paradise’.

The importance of ‘the wall’ is apparent in the etymology; it’s a compound of pairi-“around” + diz “to make, form (a wall)”.

Sorry for being off topic – but missed that earlier thread…

10

floopmeister 04.09.18 at 4:18 am

When you do a PhD thesis entitled ‘Dismantling the Wall’ you have examples of walls to add!

:)

11

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 4:21 am

Thanks, floopmeister. Yes, there’s nothing like a Ph.D. thesis for focusing the mind. Usually on anything else except the thesis. But sometimes the thesis itself.

12

Nick Caldwell 04.09.18 at 4:28 am

Not to entirely derail the conversation but the unphilosophical bent of Scott is fascinating, given how many of his films are rich with barely verbalisable undercurrents. But perhaps he would regard such undercurrents as failures of craft.

Perhaps, to wrestle this back on topic, the uncanny valley is such a liminal space that, ironically, Mori’s attempt to quantify it was itself doomed to failure.

(And as a Doctor Who tragic I have spent many hours fruitlessly wondering about that other leg of the Trousers of Time)

13

Fred Bush 04.09.18 at 4:44 am

14

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 4:49 am

Ah Google Scholar, I’m an idiot. I checked Google Books but not Google Scholar. Thanks!

15

Collin Street 04.09.18 at 5:03 am

Usually on anything else except the thesis.

The best way to get something done is to give it to somebody with something more important to do.

16

Matt 04.09.18 at 5:56 am

If you’re looking for something obscure it can be worthwhile to search Google Books and HathiTrust, even though the corpora mostly overlap. There are enough differences in search implementation that you can get some differing results.

I searched for the exact phrase “uncanny valley” in fulltext on HathiTrust and it is mentioned in 3 issues of New Scientist from 1971. Numbers 188, 192, and 196 all contain that phrase, with the most mentions in 192, according to HathiTrust’s search results. Numbers 192 and 196 also contain the word “mori.” 192 has “mori” and “uncanny valley” on the same page, which seems pretty significant. Unfortunately, you can’t view material that is still in copyright. You’d have to dig through paper copies for final confirmation. But I’m already convinced.

Mori’s paper is published in 1970, rates mentioning in New Scientist in 1971 – including the phrase “uncanny valley” — and thereby reaches Reichardt’s attention. Reichardt later uses the same phrase in the 1978 book. That possible chain of events seems rather thriftier with serendipity.

17

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 7:48 am

“I searched for the exact phrase “uncanny valley” in fulltext on HathiTrust and it is mentioned in 3 issues of New Scientist from 1971. Numbers 188, 192, and 196 all contain that phrase, with the most mentions in 192, according to HathiTrust’s search results. Numbers 192 and 196 also contain the word “mori.” 192 has “mori” and “uncanny valley” on the same page, which seems pretty significant. Unfortunately, you can’t view material that is still in copyright. You’d have to dig through paper copies for final confirmation. But I’m already convinced.”

Thanks! That is highly convincing and not at all serendipitous-looking. I should be a better researcher myself, but when you are a big-time blogger like me, you can afford to be lazy, apparently.

18

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 8:09 am

Ah, it’s a false alarm. “New Scientist” started in 1971, so that’s why you are seeing that date. But those volumes look like they are from 2006.

19

Felonious Monk 04.09.18 at 11:51 am

Ok, A quick look at the google scholar list shows that I was almost certainly introduced to the term by Scott McCloud. And it seems to me that Understanding Comics was reasonably influential among game design-flavored techies, and probably from there to Boing Boing?

20

Tim May 04.09.18 at 12:27 pm

I didn’t encounter the term until the 00s. But I remember the concept, or something close to it, appearing in Nicholas Fisk’s 1981 children’s SF novel Robot Revolt, explaining why a more advanced robot was less “human-looking” than the previous model. (I could be wrong about this. It’s a very long time since I read the book, and I couldn’t find the text online to check what it actually says. But I read something approximately like that somewhere.)

21

SusanC 04.09.18 at 12:30 pm

My memory (which may very well be false) is that the term has been in common use since the 80s.

On the other hand: it is rather more recently that computer graphics became good enough that this became a practical issue for the designers of movies, computer games etc.

22

SusanC 04.09.18 at 12:36 pm

@19. Once Scott McCloud used it, the term was certainly well known. It’d be interesting to know if it was in common use before then.

23

MisterMr 04.09.18 at 12:45 pm

” Scott seems to have done his design work intuitively, without any theory of what he was up to, or why it works. I doubt he read Freud – let alone Heidegger or Masahiro Mori. (But I would be happy to learn otherwise.)”

I don’t know about Scott, but the design of the aliens (I don’t know about the android) was made by Giger, who was influenced by Dalì who clearly knew Freud:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._R._Giger

Furthermore, the screenplay of Alien was by O’Bannon, who previously wrote the screenplay for Dark Star (with Carpenter).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_O%27Bannon
In Dark Star there is a subplot strongly reminescent of Alien, where an alien gets loose on a spaceship and a guy has a lot of problems to catch it back, although the subplot is more humourous than horror.
Furthermore, in the final of Dark Star [spoiler] one there is an intelligent bomb that has been activated by error, and one of the main charachters tries to defuse it by engaging in a philosophic dialogue with the (very intelligent) bomb. They do discuss Heidegger.

Dark Star is a great movie, by the way:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Star_(film)

24

Darren Sinden 04.09.18 at 1:25 pm

Now that we have robots, some of which assume human style or form and which we likely further anthropomorphise subconsciously for ourselves has anyone actually studied the curve to see if the hypothesis is correct and if varies based on our familiarity with technology and advances therein. Secondly, have we looked at our reaction to non-humanoid form factor robots, for example, Boston Dynamics quadrupeds which have already drawn a comparison to dogs mules etc, Is there a similar/ dissimilar curve here and or is this just an extension of factors in tew original theory.
I also wonder if studies about our empathy/liking for animae characters with outsize features is also relevant to the psychology of this whole phenomenon — finally I wonder were these reactions come would they, for example, have been present in Moorish Spain where representations of human or animal forms were largely prohibited?

25

John Holbo 04.09.18 at 1:25 pm

Scott McCloud has a theory that is very closely related but I don’t think he uses ‘uncanny valley’ in “Understanding Comics”. Correct me if that’s mistaken.

26

Abby 04.09.18 at 2:20 pm

The item that jumped out at me from that Google scholar listing was the 1981 patent for a hand puppet (https://patents.google.com/patent/US4304065A/en) that cited “Mori 1970 The uncanny valley” as prior art, suggesting that the concept had become known in the toy design community by 1980 when the patent was applied for. Interestingly, the inventor on the patent, Vincent Baiera went on to work at Atari “on robotic and computer game items”. (http://www.megomuseum.com/megolibrary/interviews/vinnybaiera/interview.html)

27

Phil 04.09.18 at 5:02 pm

The “first translation in 2005” datum is very odd, given that Robert Zemeckis’s Uncanny Valley Express is from 2004, and I’m sure it was discussed in those terms at the time. Put it another way, if we hadn’t already had the term “uncanny valley” we’d have had to come up with another term for it as soon as that film came out – cue learned-looking articles about the Zemeckis Effect…

28

Anthony Mohen 04.09.18 at 5:30 pm

I am pretty sure the first time I heard of the concept was a show at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna in 2004 (MUMOK) called “Das Unheimliche”, and thus clearly draws the Freud connection:
http://old.likeyou.com/archives/mike_kelley_mumok_04.htm

29

Felonious Monk 04.09.18 at 8:00 pm

Huh. I guess google says no, but damn, it lines up very well with when I encountered the term– it was somewhere between ’94 and ’97, while I was in high school, explained by the older brother with examples like 5 finger hands looking wrong in comics and Mortal Combat’s art being crap compared to Street Fighter.

30

Felonious Monk 04.09.18 at 8:12 pm

Of course, we were also rather into cyberpunk things, so it’s entirely possible the term came from, say, Sterling or Gibson, and got conflated with the McCloud stuff.

31

floopmeister 04.09.18 at 11:29 pm

Dark Star is a great movie, by the way:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Star_(film)

It’s also mentioned in The State of the Art by Banks – the crew of the Arbitrary watch it one evening in the common crew quarters…

32

Priest 04.10.18 at 12:21 am

The effect, though not specifically named such in the series as best as I can remember, is why the Commander Data version android has funky skin coloring. The people in the settlement were uneasy with the “real-ness” of one of Dr. Sung’s earlier attempts, so he added the artificial skin tone.

33

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 1:00 am

“The “first translation in 2005” datum is very odd, given that Robert Zemeckis’s Uncanny Valley Express is from 2004, and I’m sure it was discussed in those terms at the time. “

My memory is the same. Guess it’s time to google up old reviews of that film.

34

Tim Dymond 04.10.18 at 1:27 am

The 2001 film ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ was considered groundbreaking in its animation at the time, however its humans were criticised for looking no-quite-right. Some reviewers used the term ‘uncanny valley’ for the character’s eyes (of course – the film is probably just not very good). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTThKNh7K1I

35

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 2:36 am

OK, I have now read through a dozen or so original reviews of “Polar Express” and not one of them uses ‘uncanny valley’ or even contains the word ‘uncanny’. And, interestingly, the original critical reception was more mixed. Everyone agrees now it got stuck in the uncanny valley but at the time a lot of people didn’t notice.

Pete Travers:

“Sadly, nothing in The Polar Express seems touched by human hands. The eyes of the characters, from the boy to Santa himself (also Hanks), have a glazed look that is almost spooky in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of way. The result is a failed and lifeless experiment in which everything goes wrong.”

Roger Ebert:

“The Polar Express” has the quality of a lot of lasting children’s entertainment: It’s a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen. There’s a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie.”

James Berardinelli:

“The result allows the characters to appear much like real human beings while still retaining a slightly “animated” look. (The humans are intentionally not as real as those in Final Fantasy – a movie that gave some viewers the creeps.)”

Stephanie Zacharek:

“Beware the creeping horror that is “The Polar Express.” …

By now you all know how the allegedly revolutionary animated feature “The Polar Express,” based on Chris Van Allsburg’s popular and charming picture book, was made, but just to recap: A special tool, kind of like a blackhead extractor, is used to remove the souls of real-life actors so their faces and bodies can be cloned and freeze-dried in a handy digital format. Then, a special reanimation process brings them to “life.” Voilà — the stuff nightmares are made of, masquerading as a tale of Christmas joy and wonder …

I could probably have tolerated the incessant jitteriness of The Polar Express if the look of it didn’t give me the creeps”

Mick LaSalle:

“”The Polar Express,” from director Robert Zemeckis, is the first film in a long time to capture that ineffable whatever it is that people hope to find when they go to a Christmas movie … It’s also an enchanting, beautiful and brilliantly imagined film that constitutes a technological breakthrough. The one profound limitation of animation — the rigid faces that don’t allow for emotional nuance — is overcome through a new process that allows actors to record their performances digitally onto a computer. These performances — the gestures, the subtleties of facial expression — are then used as the template for the computer-animation process.”

Stella Papamichael:

“Forget Christmas cheer – kids will run screaming from The Polar Express after seeing Tom Hanks looking like he’s been killed, embalmed and resurrected by lightening. In reality, it’s the work of director Robert Zemeckis, using state-of-the-art motion-capture technology to adapt Chris Van Allsburg’s fairytale about a magical train and its pint-sized passengers headed to meet Santa. Besides its dead-eyed cast, this ‘animated’ escapade is thrown off the tracks by pointless detours seemingly intended just to stretch the journey time.”

Ed Park:

“I could probably have tolerated the incessant jitteriness of The Polar Express if the look of it didn’t give me the creeps.”

Maybe I missed one where some critic knows the term ‘uncanny valley’, and deploys it appropriately, but I haven’t seen it yet. This is definitely proof that the term was not ready-to-hand for critics, in 2005. Interesting.

36

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 2:39 am

Sorry, I shouldn’t say they didn’t notice. They noticed it looked creepy, but many critics found it effective and appropriate to the material.

37

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 2:52 am

One more, from Mahnola Dargis in the NY Times:

“the eerie listlessness of those characters’ faces …

The largest intractable problem with “The Polar Express” is that the motion-capture technology used to create the human figures has resulted in a film filled with creepily unlifelike beings. The five characters for which Mr. Hanks provided movement and voice (his other avatars are the boy’s dad and Santa) certainly bear a resemblance to the actor in the way of good special-effects mask. Yet none of the humans have the countless discrete fluctuations, the pulsing, swirling, twitching aliveness that can make the actor such a pleasure to watch on screen ….

It’s baffling that Mr. Zemeckis, who can make the screen churn with life, didn’t see how dead these animated characters look.”

Huh. It turns out we didn’t have the term ‘uncanny valley’ – although we obviously had the concept, including the concept of how ‘robotic’ technology could result in the undesired effect – until after Andy Serkis gave his first star-turn as Gollum. I would have guessed the order of arrival was the reverse.

38

Maxlex 04.10.18 at 3:21 am

It may not have been widely available, but here is a review that uses it in 2004: http://wardomatic.blogspot.com.au/2004/12/polar-express-virtual-train-wreck.html

The wikipedia page on the topic was created in 2004, so the term must have existed at least a little bit before the translation in 2005

39

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 3:25 am

Thanks, Maxlex, that’s useful. Good idea, checking the start date for the wikipage.

40

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 3:40 am

Quoting from the link Maxlex pointed to:

“Why do these kids (and Tom Hanks, too) veer into the now-famous uncanny valley? This narrow, yet horrifying proverbial trench of seemingly realistic characters being so close to reality that they become eerie and unsettling? Dr. Masahiro Mori’s concept here was originally coined for humans’ relationship to robotic design (in the 70’s, even). And now, with almost-real cyber humans sharing space up on screen with real human counterparts, it’s been resurrected as a very truthful description for what is going here. Others have brought this subject up on various blogs, such as Robot Johnny (although he was talking about Pixar’s INCREDIBLES), Comic Con’s The Beat, and the excellent Intelligent Artifice. Why do this anyway? Is it to boast that ultra- or even hyper-realistic humans are the Holy Grail for CG artists?”

This suggests that ‘uncanny valley’ is, in 2004, well-known enough within a certain circle (of animators and geeks and designers) that it is ‘famous’. But it is not known well enough that your average film-reviewer had it as an available term.

I should probably look at that 2005 conference and see what they had to say. Obviously you don’t pull together a conference until after a subject has some real interest. So how did those who attended the conference, in 2005, describe the state of interest in the topic.

41

Bill Benzon 04.10.18 at 11:31 am

Hmmm…. I was thinking that 1) I associate the notion of the uncanny valley with discussions of Polar Express, but that 2) I’d perhaps heard of the idea before that film. I could be mistaken on the second point, though. All I can be sure of is that I associate the idea with that film and that, FWIW, the film didn’t creep me out on that score.

42

Theo 04.10.18 at 12:33 pm

I recall it from the discussions around Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within too. A bit of googling led me to this mention in the LA Times in 2001: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2001/may/08/news/mn-60707

43

Clemente Diena 04.10.18 at 1:16 pm

Searching in Google Books, you can find “uncanny valley” (before the conference in 2002) in Genesis II, Creation and Recreation with Computers by Dale Peterson (1983), p. 18, where he says: “Mori, director of the robotics department of the Tokyo Institute of Technology speaks of an uncanny valley when describing the human sense of familiar comfort with robotic forms. Robots can be built along entirely functional lines, having little external resemblance to human form, or they can be made to mimic human form quite closely. Professor Mori notes that people observing robots experience an increasingly pleasing sense of familiarity the closer robots come to human form-up to a point. At a certain point, though, the sense of comforting familiarity plummets: the robot begins to seem disturbingly uncanny. Yet a robot that entirely resembles human form no longer evokes the uncanny reaction. Thus, it is the time of cognitive dissonance, when the human observer is trying to decide whether the robot is human or not, that causes the disturbance, the uncanny valley”. Then in Inside the Robot Kingdom by Frederik Schodt (1988), p. 208-209.

44

John Holbo 04.10.18 at 1:29 pm

Thanks Clemente, I tried Google books but must have missed that.

45

Annarestipanda 04.10.18 at 9:16 pm

I have nothing to offer on the timeline of ‘Uncanny Valley’ itself, but this may be of interest: Mori, of course, is Japanese, and that culture has many interesting notions and uses of the uncanny.

I believe Mori may have been influenced in forming his hypothesis by the ideas of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, the celebrated eighteenth century playwright and puppeteer, who brought to his medium a seriousness and depth for which it is still famous today. There is a memoir, written by a friend after his death, that gathers together some of Monzaemon’s thoughts on writing, stagecraft and puppet design. At one point Monzaemon discusses the limitations of realism, and the dramatic importance of convention in conveying emotional truth. Arguing against those who called for greater realism, he cites the story of a court woman who falls in love with a man whom protocol forbids her to meet or associate with. To ease her frustration she commissions an unprecedentedly realistic, life sized model of the object of her affections. As soon as it is delivered to her apartment however, she finds its very verisimilitude disturbing and repulsive. Monzaemon is a mighty cultural figure, recognised worldwide as an artist of historical importance. I wonder if Mori was simply expressing in modern terms what Monzaemon also knew from artistic experience. Mori after all, was talking about animation?

This prompts two further reflections:
In a career straddling art and technology I have repeatedly noticed bunches of computer engineers who have been tunnelling for years in the dark underground of practical code, suddenly breaking through into worlds of artistic practice, and thus into debates that have been going on for centuries. That on realism vs convention is a very ancient one.

Bear in mind also, that conventions are learned social constructions, (this includes the convention of ‘realism’!) Cultural familiarity renders them somewhat invisible and the audience, be it of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Shakespear or Ridley Scott, sees through the conventions to the drama they express. For this reason I would like to mount a small defence of ‘Spirits Within’ as being a more detailed version of the conventions of anime, than a true attempt at virtual photography. Interestingly, it is the older, wrinkly, warty, and liver-spotted characters who are the more photographically convincing, the smooth youngsters less so.

But Monzaemon’s art shows why simpler conventions often work better dramatically than realistically detailed ones – faces in Japanese art are often generic and simplified to allow audiences to identify with the character. Audiences are often said to leave bunraku puppet performances, convinced that they have seen emotions fleeting across the blank carved wooden faces. As always, ambiguity in art draws the mind of the audience in to construct that which they expect to see, but do not actually need to be shown. The valley of ambiguity is always more interesting than that of the uncanny.

To conclude, the term ‘uncanny valley’ may have a history, but it also has a pre-history.

46

Theophylact 04.10.18 at 9:27 pm

New Scientist is a lot older than 1971 (it was first published in 1956), but I guess you can’t search the archive online any earlier than 1971. It makes a brief appearance in the 1965 film of The Ipcress File.

47

Royton De'Ath 04.11.18 at 12:23 am

My copy of Escape Velocity [Dery, Mark, 1996. Hodder & Stoughton] refers to Mori on p.196. Frederik Schodt’s Inside the Robot Kingdom is mentioned as referring to Mori. Dery also briefly mentions Freud’s ‘Uncanny’ essay and his use of the Hoffmann story “The Sandman”.

48

Bill Benzon 04.11.18 at 10:03 am

Yes, Inside the Robot Kingdom (1988) mentions Mori. The robot kingdom is Japan and the book is an account of robots in Japan, from 19th century automata on through to the deployment of industrial robots.

49

Kiwanda 04.11.18 at 6:10 pm

In a career straddling art and technology I have repeatedly noticed bunches of computer engineers who have been tunnelling for years in the dark underground of practical code, suddenly breaking through into worlds of artistic practice, and thus into debates that have been going on for centuries.

Those dreary, benighted, pitiful souls, laboring away in the miserable, gloomy bowels of *practical code*, so tedious, so boring, so utterly *uncreative*.

50

JPL 04.11.18 at 11:21 pm

BTW, I found the images of Mark Zuckerberg’s face as he was testifying in congress yesterday very creepy indeed. Was that a real person or something else?

51

Bloix 04.12.18 at 2:52 pm

Banned commenter deleted

52

Fraud Guy 04.13.18 at 1:08 am

I recall a college course in the late 80’s which includeded several works by Guy de Maupassant and his stories of horror, the “inquiet”. From the 1880’s.

53

Another Nick 04.13.18 at 1:49 am

http://goldberg.berkeley.edu/pubs/Jochum-Goldberg-Cultivating-the-Uncanny.pdf

Interesting reading, John. I was going to write something similar to [banned commenter, now deleted], but I’ll just add that according to Reichardt, it was Kohei Sugiura, a friend and collaborator, who introduced her to Mori’s essay.

54

Another Nick 04.13.18 at 1:49 am

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freud:_The_Secret_Passion

“The “Main Title” from Freud, as well as the tracks Charcot’s Show and Desperate Case were later purchased and reused without consent of Goldsmith by director Ridley Scott for the acid blood scene and others in the film Alien (1979), also scored by Goldsmith.”

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Peter Friedman 04.13.18 at 1:54 am

I hate to say it, but a 2008 episode of 30 Rock made the concept unforgettable to me, and I don’t think it’s influence was limited to me. http://gorelets.com/uncanny/theory/30-rock-popularizes-the-uncanny-valley/

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John Holbo 04.13.18 at 10:45 pm

Thanks, another Nick, that paper is quite useful. It answers a lot of questions directly.

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