Uncanny Valley Authority Statement

In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori published an article titled “Bukimi no Tani Gensh”, commonly translated as “The Uncanny Valley”. His theory asserts that the more humanlike a machine like a robot is presented, the more accepting humans are of it, until the resemblance to human is close, but not perfect. This triggers a sudden and deep sense of revulsion in most people, occurring just before a return to full human acceptance. The deep dip in the otherwise gentle curve of human resemblance, comfort, and recognition is mapped as the Uncanny Valley.

In 2007, while examining reasons why people name their personal technology, often describing electronic devices using gender, I started to wonder what the world would be like if these objects could be wished into being alive. Where would these anthropomorphized things live? If one side of human relationship to machines is reflected in human-like robots, the other is in the continued practice of humanizing computers. These machines would manifest themselves in the Uncanny Valley, randomly appearing when wished into existence by some unaware human.

To better examine these related ideas: we create machines in our own image; we project ourselves onto machines; we are repulsed by things that are closely human but not quite right; and we want to believe that machines are intelligent, I founded the Uncanny Valley Authority, a speculative agency tasked to provide services to the Uncanny Valley, helping new denizens adjust to their position, improving man/machine relations through study, rehabilitation and outreach. As an organization in charge of a mapped theoretical space, the UVA maintains outposts within the Valley that handle different aspects of the local phenomena.

Uncanny Valley Authority Outposts manifest as installations that function on multiple levels. Each must provide the workspace appropriate to the particular outpost’s function. Each contains a component of sculptural treatment specific to the Outpost’s character. Outposts re-utilize and reposition technologies, particularly ones never fully explored, that cost little, may actually require money to dispose of, and can often be acquired for no money. Finally, each reflects an aspect of the human relationship to technology, attempting to reconcile belief with truth.

Manifested installations include Outpost 19670: the Last Outpost, which rehabilitates improperly anthropomorphized computers and attempts to place them with adoptive homes, and the Robot Identification Institute, which develops and maintains the Robot Taxonomy Project. The Binary Haiku initiative links humans and computers together through writing haiku that reflects on technological culture. The Color Dot-Matrix Print Project brings an unconsidered and possibly outmoded medium back to the foreground to consider its aesthetic value.

On the horizon is the Outpost 836: the CGI CatchBasin, charged with documenting and remediating computer character generation from games and movies that has fallen into Uncanny Valley; and Outpost 70: Puppet and Doll Preserve, which humanely removes unsuccessful and partial anthropomorphic transformations of dolls and puppets from the wilds of the Valley. All Uncanny Valley Authority Outposts, initiatives, and reporting are linked through the website at http://uncannyvalley.net.