"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." ~ T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

For years movies have been depicting robots with artificial intelligence. Some AI robots are depicted with human characteristics. The video below depicts "The Uncanny Valley", a spot where robot features become too close to human ones. 

1. Why do people get scared of robots that have AI with human features but like the AI robots with non-human features?
2. Do you believe this is true? 
3. Cartoon AI robots are considered "cute" but scientists strive to make AI robots that look very much like humans. Does this mean that we are trying to create them "in our image" like God created us?
4. Is this arrogant of us to believe we can recreate humans? 
5. Also do you believe that we will ever be able to have a fully automated robot that thinks and acts like a human would? 
6. What are the repercussions of this happening?

Please watch the video below that explains more about "The Uncanny Valley" and have fun discussing.

-Carrie W, Patrick C, and Chris S


  1. Hey guys so after some discussion with Carrie, I have come to the conclusion that as humans we are not always frightened by things that resemble us. As mentioned above, cartoon robots are considered "cute" and to add to that, as humans our brain often registers "cuteness" based on human like features. That being said, I think it is obvious that this "Uncanny Valley" brings a pretty interesting point to the table.

    I think the main reason that we are afraid of these robots resembling us is because of their lack of life. I believe we are fascinated by these non living creatures that can basically function in the same ways we can. I do not think it is arrogant for us to try to recreate our species because it is a new area of science to explore. I do not think the goal of robots is to create a "surrogate" lifestyle, mainly because I could never see myself doing something or living a life in that nature. However, only time will tell.

  2. After watching the "Uncanny Valley" video, I definitely noticed how I associate fear with the AI robots that have human features, whereas I do not associate fear with the non-human like AI robots. I believe this fear arises because we see the human-like AI robots as a potential threat to humanity. Humans view themselves as the most intelligent, superior being on Earth. The idea of creating AI robots that have the physical appearance like ourselves, but can learn and act in a superior way, scares us. The possibility of AI robots overpowering humans is enough to cause the fear of humans losing superiority on earth. Another possible reason why we fear AI robots is due to the potentially dangerous ways humans can manipulate and use them to his or her own advantage. This is especially relevant for military and security situations. It's a fear that arises from the unknown.

    1. I think you bring up a good point when it comes to warfare. The use of human like robots is horrifying. They have no fear, shooting them would not cause hesitation because they have no emotions. They are, for lack of a better term "killing machines". There are definitely some benefits to using robots such as these, as long as you are not fighting against them ;).

    2. I have to agree with the two of you, with a little twist; it is not as frightening that computers, for example, have artificial intelligence to a degree, but it is extremely frightening to think of robots with no feelings, no emotions taking over our military, our workforce... anything that may strip us of our "crown" as the top level of creation/evolution. Until they begin to control us, we're fine with it... but once the control leaves our hands, we're suddenly very dominated and very much afraid.

  3. I think the quote in the video sums it up perfectly when it comes to robots resembling humans. "They evoke a fear of death, dying and mortality" Karl MacDorman. Personally, I find human robots to be very freaky. The little yellow one was cute. Human ones freak me out. I think there is a fear associated with them, because like in the movie iRobot, they always have the potential to "go bad." I feel that if a robot were to "go bad" it would be disastrous, because we no longer have so-called control over the robot. The only things that can think, act, and make decisions should be humans. Not only are these AI robots creepy because of the potential harm they possesses, but also because of their faces; they are just creepy looking! I also agree with what Patrick said "I think the main reason that we are afraid of these robots resembling us is because of their lack of life." While they may be able to resemble humans and carry out some of the same actions, they are not human. I dont think our minds have the capability to accept a machine as "human," so since these AIs resemble humans, but are not humans, we are afraid of them.

  4. Lol TOTALLY talked about this in high school.....
    Anyway, I think humans get jittery around the concept of AI for philosophical reasons. I think mankind at times is so desperate to understand his own consciousness that he seeks to attempt to replicate it. It's the idea that you can't make something if you don't really understand it or know what you're doing, and if you don't fully know, you can better understand it by trying to get there. I think people get nervous about the concept of having AI because of the fact that we don't understand why we are conscious, and we are afraid of making an unseen mistake and creating something monstrous. Due to the complexity of humans, I do not believe at all that we have a shot at recreating humans in the near future, but I do believe we could potentially possess enough of an understanding of circuitry to create a computer that can operate more independently than others.

  5. OK, I will tie this in to the conversation. So I love how I saw Prometheus only like two days ago. In it is an android in the movie. 'David'is played by Michael Fassbender. The relationship between humans and androids in the movie is highlighted multiple times. I can't go into the plot aspects much because I don't believe in ruining movies for people who haven't seen them, however, short conversation is worth mentioning.

    David: Why do you think your people made me?
    Charlie Holloway: We made you because we could.
    David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?
    Charlie Holloway: I guess it's good you can't be disappointed.

    I think that there's something inherent about human nature that urges us to do the things we do. Dr. Holloway's comment has some merit, but it's not totally true. Devon brought up the great point that we're trying to 'replicate our own consciousness.' Which, is supported elsewhere in the movie, when David makes a comment that humans feel comfortable around their own kind. And as a result, androids were designed to be 'perfectly human' with the exception of a soul. (Which I question because he has emotion, and all other indications of a soul.)

    This being said, I think that is the direction we are heading. These nonhuman-like human replications are disturbing to us because there is something inherently NOT human about them. I think it makes us uncomfortable because these attempts at human replication are disturbing in the sense that they deceive us in the idea that they are human until we see them move and talk. The nonhumaness of them is what disturbs us. If they moved fluidly and acted human, we would be uncomfortable but I believe that we would grow accustomed to them quite rapidly.

  6. In the discussion of AI, I think it is important to include popular culture depictions equally if not more thoroughly than academic debate. Like Ben said, when I saw this post I immediately thought of the android in the Aliens series. The fascination with artificial life has persisted in fiction for centuries, going back to ancient Greek myths of Hephaestus' automaton. I think it's part of our conception of ourselves as being made in the image of God that prompts us to want to create, like He did, in our own image. In this way, we approach AI with almost a feeling of sacrilege. In nearly every depiction of modern robots, from Terminator to Alien to Dune to 2001 a space Odyssey deal with the repercussions of creating a thinking machine: eventually, our creations turn against us. This speaks to two subconscious trends: one, a guilt that we are approaching as a species God-like powers of creation, and two, a narrative that parallels our own rebellion against our creator. As such, the issue of Artificial intelligence makes us uneasy, as we are forced to contemplate that nature of our creator and our relationship towards it.

  7. I think the problem with seeing a robot with human features is the concept described as the uncanny valley. I play video games from time to time and this is an effect I have noticed over the years. Those games whose artistic direction is more of a fantasized ot cartoonish look seem more polished or smoother around the edges than those that try to depict real life as truthfully as possible. I this this effect comes about because we see something similar enough to us that it evokes a sense of familiarity. The reason we reject it is because technology is not yet at the point where it can perfectly imitate a real world so we see that cusp of perfection with several inconsistencies. I'm sure that psychologically our creation of robots that look similar to humans could have something to do with wanting to "recreate" humans but I think more than anything there's a certain level of comfort associated with having a robot resembling one's self and scientists are trying to use that effect to create more desirable robots. I don't think that we could ever create a robot that functions EXACTLY like a human would because I don't think we have enough information on why humans act the way we do. Emotions and decision-making we can try to imitate in a robot but I don't think we're quite at a point where we can replicate it.