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.