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Reuters/Thomas Peter
Patient creatures.
UNCANNY

Photos: Which of these humanlike robots can you stand to look at?

Caitlin Hu
By Caitlin Hu

Contributor

The robot revolution is probably closer than you think. No longer just helpers or servers, today’s robots are practice dental patients, hitchhikers, translators, PR reps and dancers. Some even have the ability to wink. While several scientists have expressed fear that artificial intelligence could one day go too far, the new generation of robots includes equally disturbing aesthetic advances—softer skin-like coverings, tongue-waggling, and eerily human attitudes.

Welcome to the uncanny valley.

First coined by robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970, the term “uncanny valley” describes how humans react to the appearances of non-living things. As objects look more and more realistic, he posited, we like them more and more—cartoons, for example, successfully exploit this by anthropomorphizing animals, inanimate objects and yes, robots. But once a non-living object looks too lifelike, human observers recoil and their sympathy evaporates (a shiver of disgust usually marks this point). Test where your own uncanny valley begins and ends, with the photos below.

Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
This dental patient robot allows dentals students an opportunity for practical experience. She can move her own tongue and eyes.
Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay
Humanoid robot “blushes.”
Reuters/Yuya Shino
Robots called Robi perform a synchronized dance. They are able to speak, walk and dance.
Reuters/Yuya Shino
Robot Kirobo has been awarded two Guinness World Records: “First companion robot in space” and “Highest altitude for a robot to have a conversation.”
Reuters/Thomas Peter
A “Nao” humanoid robot sits in a corner while its batteries are being charged. Upon request, it can offer basic information about banking services in Japanese, English and Chinese.
Reuters/Tyrone Siu
This humanoid robot named Han can answer simple questions, and is made of a special material that allows facial expressions
Reuters/Toru Hanai
The HRP-4C Miim humanoid robot.
Reuters/Kenneth Armstrong
The hitchBOT is hitch-hiking across Canada.
Reuters/Toru Hanai
Toyota Motor Corp’s partner robots play instruments at the company’s showroom. (JAPAN) – RTR2068C
Reuters/Yuya Shino
SoftBank’s human-like robot named ‘Pepper speaks to a customer in its role as a PR manager.
Reuters/Joshua Roberts
The world’s first-ever functioning bionic man made of prosthetic parts and artificial organ implants.
Reuters/Issei Kato
This robot, introduced by Toshiba, can use sign language and introduce itself. It is designed to interact with customers.
Reuters/Pichi Chuang
A visitor waves in front of a dummy robot that is part of “PWM1”, an art creation by Taiwan artist Huang Zan-lun.