People tend to accept robots with humanlike characteristics up to a point. Then, things get strangely uncomfortable – Why Robots And Creep Us Out.
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Robots have appeared in film for more than 100 years, with the first depiction occurring in the silent film “The Master Mystery,” starring magician-turned-wannabe-actor Harry Houdini. Previously referred to as “automatons” before “” became commonplace, these metal machines have been portrayed as delightful helpers à la C-3PO and WALL-E and as villains, like the T-800 from “Terminator” or VIKI from “I, Robot.”
Whether a is “good” or “bad” isn’t the ultimate indicator of whether we fear them or not. Sometimes, they just need to have human characteristics and qualities for people to feel unsettled by them. Sigmund Freud first coined the term “uncanny” in an essay to describe that feeling toward objects such as dolls and wax figures. Robots soon followed.
“Roboticist Masahiro Mori came up with the notion of the ‘uncanny valley,'” said Jaime Banks, an associate professor of advertising and brand strategy in Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication. “The uncanny valley is this pattern where, as something becomes more human, we have more positive feelings about it up to a point. When it is kind of human but not quite human, that makes us really uncomfortable. It’s that strange familiarity, or familiar strangeness.
“This has been shown with robots, zombies, dolls, people with plastic surgery, all sorts of things that we have this idea in our head about what a human looks like, and it doesn’t quite make it there—but it’s also not far enough away to be comfortable.”
Banks—whose research focuses on human-machine communication emphasizing social cognition in human- interaction, especially in relation to cooperation, trust, mind perception and moral judgments—noted that the media people consume can influence their ability to trust or fear robots and/or ().
“Our reactions to some computer-generated images (CGI), which are common in media, can have an effect similar to how we tend to see robots,” Banks said. “A lot of times, we know things don’t look quite right, but can’t quite explain why. A famous example is ‘Polar Express,’ where the characters are just a little bit creepy, or Disney characters like Elsa in Frozen with her strange facial proportions. But, as we watch them, we can become a bit desensitized to their weirdness and sort of forgive them for being weird, in light of their actions or personalities. That might suggest that we could possibly be desensitized to robots over time by different types of media exposures or in-person exposures, and studies do support this idea.” […]