Uncanny Valley

Part
01
of three
Part
01

"The Uncanny" Summary

The structure of the essay is divided into three sections: the first section defines the uncanny, the second section examines the short story titled "The Sandman" of Hoffmann, and the last section deliberates on the effect of the uncanny.

Summary

  • "The Uncanny" is Freud's essay published in 1919 is an important work of psychoanalytic criticism that moved away from an analysis of authors to focus on themes present in literature that make the reader uneasy.
  • The essay elaborates and defines the word "uncanny" and he states this word as "something that is at once frightening, yet familiar."
  • He examined and adopted the etymology of the word "unheimlich" and its opposing word "heimlich," which means familiar and congenial. Freud used "unheimlich" as the contrast of the first meaning but not the second. It is considered that "everything is unheimlich which ought to have remained concealed but has come to light."
  • The structure of the essay is divided into three sections: the first section defines the uncanny, the second section examines the short story titled "The Sandman" of Hoffmann, and the last section deliberates on the effect of the uncanny.

Definition of the Uncanny

  • Freud stated that "uncanny effect is produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality." It explains that humans assume fairy tales are an imagined world and completely separate from their own. Consequently, these fairy tale events do not make humans uneasy.
  • He also mentioned that being uncanny is "when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one." A great example of this is that children usually pretend that their toys and dolls are alive because they do not distinguish clearly between what is living and what is dead. Besides, without any fear, they often wish that their toys would come alive, or believe they do.
  • Freud also mentioned that uncanny is "class of the terrifying, which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar." The two examples for this line are involuntarily returning to the same place and encountering a scene that has seen before but does not recall when.
  • He listed that uncanny is "dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, feet which dance by themselves." Whether animate or inanimate, each of these gives an uncanny effect.

Significant Quotations Explained

  • "Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops towards an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich." This line starts his explanation of what is uncanny and why with an exploration of the German word unheimlich. Because Heimlich indicates "familiar," he states "that what is 'uncanny' is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar."
  • "There is scarcely any other matter, however, upon which our thoughts and feelings have changed so little since the very earliest times, and in which discarded forms have been so completely preserved under a thin disguise, as that of our relation to death." This line believes that fear of mortality is a primitive fear shared by all humans. This belief traces back to "the old belief that the deceased becomes the enemy" of the survivor.

Section 1: Definition of the Uncanny

  • Freud first tackled an etymological analysis of the word uncanny and applied the word unheimlich for German, which can be defined as unfamiliar and unconcealed.
  • After his discussion, Schelling defines uncanny as "what was meant to remain secret and hidden has come into the open," which is associated with "in some way a species of the familiar."

Section 2: Examination of "The Sandman"

Section 3: Deliberations on the Effect of the Uncanny

  • In the last section, Freud makes a contrast between "the uncanny, which a person knows from experience and the uncanny that a person only fancies or reads about."
  • He suggests that "many things that would be uncanny if they occurred in real life are not uncanny in literature, and that in literature, there are many opportunities to achieve uncanny effects that are absent in real life."
  • Lastly, he is not completely contented with his own conclusion. It considered that "Not everything that returns from repression is uncanny. Return of the repressed is a necessary condition for the uncanny, but not a sufficient one. Something else must also be at play here in order to create the experience of the uncanny."

The Rise of "The Uncanny"

  • The exploration and examination of Benett and Royle started due to the consideration of Freud's essay 'The Uncanny.' In their book 'An introduction to literature, criticism and theory.' both Benett and Royle discuss the likeness with Freud's essay that made quotation to the etymological analysis, which portrays the point that uncanny is not something solely about the unfamiliar but instead related to the idea of the familiar.
  • The concept of Sigmund Freud is adopted in the experiment done by Dr.Masahiro Mori where he concluded that if a robot more and more similar to a human in form, the affinity to this robot steadily increases as realism increased or would there be dips in the relationship between affinity and realism.
  • Other literature mentions uncanny characters and events such as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Lifted Veil by George Eliot, Mrs.Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and 1984 by George Orwell.
Part
02
of three
Part
02

Applications of "The Uncanny"

"The Uncanny Valley" by Masahiro Mori, which is linked to Freud's "The Uncanny," is applied to various forms of technology such as robotics, CGI, computer graphics, among others.

Overview

  • Freud describes the word uncanny as "something that is at once frightening, yet familiar."
  • Freud utilizes the word unheimlich (German), which not only means "familiar" but "unfamiliar." This particular word translates into "uncanny" when converted to English.
  • He stated that the genital organs of females are uncanny as they are the entryway to the place in which every individual originated. As a home, these are unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time.
  • Close to the essay's conclusion, Freud argues that in terms of experience, the uncanny within literature could differ from the uncanny experienced in real life.

Freud's Essay in Current Day Applications

  • Sigmund Freud's concept is adopted in the experiment conducted by Dr. Masahiro Mori, where he concluded that if a robot greatly resembled a human in form, the affinity to the machine gradually intensifies as realism increased or would barriers arise in realism and affinity's connection.
  • Studies from MacDorman and Ishiguro and David Hanson and a humanoid robot named Sophia determined that "The Uncanny Valley," which is linked to Freud's "The Uncanny," existed and can be applied in today's technology.
  • MacDorman and Ishiguro's study applied and supports Masahiro Mori's "The Uncanny Valley," as they evaluated observers' responses to facial morphs they observed on a mechanistic robot.
  • David Hanson conducted a study that aimed to test if "falling into the uncanny valley" is imminent. Results revealed that "for the case of the single cue of appearance, uncanny reactions can be circumvented by skillful manipulation."
  • Ishiguro suggests that for short engagements one can easily bypass the uncanny valley. This indication was based on minimal movements by an android robot that were identical to postural adjustments, which could be observed for about two seconds without the observer noticing it was an artificial agent.
  • Sophia, a humanoid robot that is the first to obtain citizenship in the nation of Saudi Arabia, utilizes the uncanny valley concept and, without intention, tarnish the public's perception of artificial intelligence.
  • Other robots that are linked to both Mori and Freud's work are BigDog, a dog-like, gas-powered robot from Boston Dynamics, CB2 created by Osaka University's Professor Ishiguro, a talking robot from engineers at Kagawa University (Japan), Geminoid developed by Osaka Univerisity's Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories, and Saya, which instructed a science and technology session to 10 year-old children at the Tokyo University of Science.
  • The concept of "The Uncanny Valley" is also adopted in computer graphics and applied to CGI, such as the characters seen in Beowulf, Rogue One, and Blade Runner 2049.
  • Artificial intelligence is helping to enhance chatbot conversations, such the Google Assistant AI that adopts uncanny valley, which in 2018, successfully completed a phone appointment during a demonstration. Other AIs associated with uncanny valley include Rosenbloom's Sigma platform, LyrnAI's 'This Person Does Not Exist' project, and the horse-to-zebra images from a Berkeley team.

How Freud's Essay Informed Masahiro Mori's "The Uncanny Valley"

  • Dr. Masahiro Mori, who serves as a professor of engineering that teaches at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, conducted an experiment in 1970 in which he termed "bukimi no tani" and translated to "uncanny valley."
  • The word "uncanny" was selected for "bukimi" because of its psychological resonances to Sigmund Freud's 1919 essay"Das Unheimlich" ("The Uncanny").
  • As Freud described uncanny "as that class of the frightening, which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar," this particular definition is relevant and suitable to the sensation Mori detailed as "the valley appears as we approach the familiar."


Research Strategy:

Our research began by consulting educational institutions such as the University of Iowa, along with Research Gate, a social networking site for researchers and scientists. We also explored online learning platforms and the Freud Museum website, which offered details on the applications of "The Uncanny."
Part
03
of three
Part
03

"The Uncanny Valley" Summary

Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, introduced the “Uncanny Valley” theory in the 1970s. Mori is also the president of the Mukta Research Institute that conducts research on the implications of metaphysics on robotics, and is the founder of the first robot-building competition, Robocon, in Japan. Mori invented the "Uncanny Valley" theory to establish a relationship between how similar things are to humans and how humans can react to them emotionally.

A SUMMARY OF THE “UNCANNY VALLEY”

A Valley in One’s Sense of Affinity

The Effect of Movement

Escape by Design

An Explanation of the Uncanny Experience

Research Strategy

In order to provide a summary of "The Uncanny Valley" essay, we read through the essay and reviewed several other articles and research papers that discuss the theory. We were able to corroborate these sources to understand the key concepts highlighted by Masahiro Mori. Several sources that are dated more than 2 years have been used because they cover the "Uncanny Valley" theory, which was a historical concept dated back in the 1970s.

Sources
Sources

From Part 01
Quotes
  • "something that is at once frightening, yet familiar"
  • "uncanny effect is produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality"
  • "when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one"
  • "class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar"
  • "dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, feet which dance by themselves"
  • "Thus heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops towards an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich."
  • "There is scarcely any other matter, however, upon which our thoughts and feelings have changed so little since the very earliest times, and in which discarded forms have been so completely preserved under a thin disguise, as that of our relation to death."
Quotes
  • "Everything is unheimlich which ought to have remained concealed but has come to light."
Quotes
  • "what was meant to remain secret and hidden has come into the open"
  • "in some way a species of the familiar"
  • ""to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes" rather than the "intellectual uncertainty" as to "whether a particular figure is a real person or an automaton.""
  • ""the fateful and the inescapable", "the dominance of a compulsion to repeat in our unconscious mind", and "the omnipotence of thoughts.""
  • "the uncanny one knows from experience and the uncanny one only fancies or reads about"
  • "many things that would be uncanny if they occurred in real life are not uncanny in literature, and that in literature there are many opportunities to achieve uncanny effects that are absent in real life"
Quotes
  • "Not everything that returns from repression is uncanny. Return of the repressed is a necessary condition for the uncanny, but not a sufficient one. Something else must also be at play here in order to create the experience of the uncanny."
From Part 02
Quotes
  • "uncanny effect is produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality"
  • "when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one"
Quotes
  • "as that class of the frightening, which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar"
  • "the valley appears as we approach the familiar"
  • "an android robot undergoing small movements equivalent to postural adjustments could be viewed for 2 seconds without an observer detecting that they were viewing an artificial agent."
  • "the affinity to this robot steadily increase as realism increased or would there be dips in the relationship between affinity and realism"