Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Web Secret 495: the Uncanny Valley

It is my son Eric's job to keep me teetering on the brink of horror by sending me the latest and greatest news from the frontiers of A.I. and innovation.

This week, he clued me in on a concept called the "Uncanny Valley." The "UV" is "a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object's resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers."

Remember the toons in the movie "Polar Express"? Disturbing right?

Even more disturbing: CGI (computer generated imagery)has been perfected to the point where reality and computer generated imagery are indistinguishable.

In a must see short film, "Goodbye Uncanny Valley", the UK artist and animator Alan Warburton explores the implication of this advance. It's a bad news/good news situation.

1. Bad. Worried about fake news? What happens when you can't tell the difference between the actual and the computer generated? When you no longer need flesh and blood actors because it's cheaper to just create them? Warburton doesn't offer any solutions. Who needs human psychotherapists if you can talk to an image of one which can access everything mankind knows about counseling?

2. Good. In the movie "Interstellar", the film maker programmed what was known about black holes to create a visual representation that obeys the known laws of physics - even though no one has ever seen an actual black hole. Imagine being able to perform scientific research without the cost and restrictions of current knowledge.

3. Good. Artists on the cutting edge of computer generated art can use the advances in CGI to create wondrous images. Think Dali surrealism on testosterone.

Right this second, we don't have to worry about point 1 too much - perfected CGI is the realm of movie makers with very big budgets, and an army of experts. But in time, the cost will go down and sophisticated tools will replace the animation experts.

And then?

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