The Future of Robotics: Staying out of the Uncanny Valley

Personifying robots

Perhaps, as Dr Kate Darling, robot ethicist and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, explains, it is simply personification, encouraged by film characters such as WALL-E, Marvin the Paranoid Android, from the classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Baymax from Big Hero 6. Maybe his responsive chat, in a Northern accent no less, and thoughtful expression made him appear more human to me and created this connection on my part.


The movement style of robots is also important to humans. Over the course of a day, humans will move hundreds of times, for example shifting in a chair, blinking, crossing, and uncrossing the legs, or adjusting clothes or hair. These human responses come from needing to adjust the body to remain comfortable. Robots do not have these impulses of course, because they would not feel bodily discomfort, and therefore they do not do it. This can lead to humans viewing robots as too still and then any following movement can be seen as jarring.

But Why do Some Find Robots So Discomforting?

Heavily based on the earlier theories of Ernst Jentsch[8], famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud[9] wrote his 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny,’ (Das Unheimliche). His works



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store