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Welcome to the uncanny valley

Aug 19,2019
LEE DONG-HYUN
The author is a deputy industrial team editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

U.S. carmaker Ford is currently developing agility robotics and humanoid robots. Videos released on the internet made me dizzy. Digit-1, folded in the back of a Ford self-driving transit van, gets out of the car on its own, carries objects to be delivered in its two arms and walks to the delivery destination.

It gently puts down the box at the door and returns to the car. This is a form of so-called “last-mile mobility,” and mobility companies around the world are interested in the concept of delivering passengers and cargo to the final destination. Amazon’s drone delivery and electric scooters from the bus station to home are examples.

The problem is that this robot walks so much like a real human. The uncanny valley theory applies here. In 1970, Japanese robot engineer Masahiro Mori came up with the idea. As robots resemble humans, the acceptance rate goes up, but when it reaches a certain degree, people start to feel strongly unsettled.

A robot without a head carrying a box and walking like a human is eerie. While we have all imagined the birth of robots resembling humans for decades, the awkwardness of seeing it in real life was overwhelming. A lot of commenters online also felt uncomfortable after seeing the humanoid robot. The possibility of someone attacking or harassing the robot cannot be ruled out.

The recent controversy over sex dolls is also uncomfortable. I am not convinced that buying a sex doll is better than buying sex from humans or that their right to pursue their own happiness should be acknowledged. They resemble humans so closely, but I find the doll without any facial expression frightening. Regardless of right or wrong, I feel that I am being pushed into the uncanny valley.