5 Creepy Ways Humans Are Plunging Into the Uncanny Valley
Way back in 1970, a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori came up with the term "uncanny valley", the theory that as robots get more human like, people will respond positively to them, but only up to the point where they still definitely look like robots. Once they cross that point, or the uncanny valley, real humans will be disgusted by their robot counterparts, because they'll look almost like people, but not quite. And there is nothing we find more disturbing than that.
But what we're finding today is that it's not robots we have to worry about; the uncanny valley is all around you. Just consider ...
The Booming "Realistic" Sex Doll Industry
While sex dolls have been around for decades, and men's desire to have sex with a woman who won't talk back or ask for anything has been around forever, it was an American who took them beyond a mere novelty and into the uncanny valley.
Artist Matt McMullen was trying to make art when he created his first lifelike miniature doll. He posted pictures of the little lady on the Internet, and surprisingly, somebody asked if it was, you know, doable. McMullen got an idea, and the RealDoll was born -- an incredibly realistic-looking sex doll complete with orifices, real-to-the-touch skin and hair, and, more recently, moving parts and programmable personalities in some models.
So what's the problem?
Other than the fact that you can now get rich selling life-sized masturbation aids (and they cost up to $10,000,) you have to ask what's the purpose of a RealDoll beyond what could be accomplished with the much simpler and cheaper Fleshlight (Google it -- or you can just figure out what it is by the name). Does making her look like this ...
... create a more human connection? Because she ... what? Fools you into thinking she's a real girl?
That's where it gets weird. There are some men out there interacting with their dolls in ways that prove emotional bonds can be creepier than the kind used by dominatrixes.
For instance, one guy recreated his dead lover in the form of a doll. Another carries a picture of his doll in his wallet and cuddles with her on the weekends while watching movies, just like he would with a real woman.
As the market grows, the technology advances, but only further into the valley. Take the recent revealing of TrueCompanion's Roxxxy. She comes with programmable personalities, all of which are sexist stereotypes. Then it was discovered that one of these personalities, called Frigid Farrah, will spurn and resist sexual advances.
In other words, for the right amount of money, a dangerous segment of the population can purchase pretend assault victims. There are some people who are seriously worried about the long-term implications of such lifelike sex toys.
Of course, verbal resistance won't stop any RealDoll from being forced into the doll porn industry quietly spreading across the Internet right now. Yeah, this is a thing too. No, we won't give you the link. Go talk to a real girl.
But what is chilling about these isn't the stiff, rubber skin monsters they have now -- it's the ones they'll be manufacturing 20 years from now. The ones your children will be bringing home, that you won't be able to tell aren't real people until you look into their cold, dead eyes.
People Who Want to Be Anime Characters -- Animegao Kigurumi
At some point Japanese anime went from "a genre of cartoons" to "sexy cartoons" to "sexy cartoons men become obsessed with" to ... uh, this.
Kigurumi, in general, is about people dressing up as cartoon characters, but here we're referring specifically to anime characters. So it's like cosplayers, but instead of using your own face and makeup to emulate your favorite anime character, you wear a mask and a full-body costume.
So what's the problem?
You wind up with this:
Again, however, most costumes out there are female. Most players are male.
While we're not sure why there's a greater male-to-female ratio dressing as female characters, we do know that it makes the following video even more disturbing.
In the video, the masked kigurumi dances around with a bread stick, not really doing anything more than a few spins. What's the bread stick for? We've no idea. Probably to subtly indicate that he's got a dong in there.
Other videos, of which there are many, feature similar actions, including just lying around and a pillow fight that's lesbian or gay or neither. But creepy no matter the sexual preference.
But we digress. What makes the video and any other animegao kigurumi wrong to the eye is the stillness of the mask and the lack of facial reactions while the body moves. The only other living things that do this are dead people. Living dead people. The oversized eyes don't help much, either. Look at the image below for more than 10 seconds and tell us you don't feel your will to live being sapped.
If you're thinking that sexual obsession with anime can't get any weirder than that, hang on ...
People Who Want to be Anime Characters (Part 2) -- Ulzzang
Ulzzang, or "best face," is a Korean subculture in which girls alter their looks digitally, with a shitload of makeup and by any other means available to them, to get that perfect anime look. In other words, a ulzzang girl is going to have behemoth, circular eyes, a teeny little nose and mouth, flawless, pale skin and an itty-bitty body dressed up in perfectly coordinated outfits.
And once they get that creepily perfect look, they upload pictures of themselves for online competitions for prestige and Internet fame.
So what's the problem?
You tell us:
Altering your face digitally to the point where you look like a doe-eyed Disney alien is creepy enough, but what's really messed up is when kids mess with their real-world faces with real-world eyelid glue and real-world illegal contact lenses. Because fuck eyes. What do they do anyway?
So here's how ulzzang eyes work: First, you slab a shitload of makeup all over your face. Then, you jam some contacts designed to make your irises look huge into your eyes. Never mind that the lenses will prevent oxygen from getting to your eyes, which will lead to frequent infections and, in a worst-case scenario, will actually poke a hole in your cornea and you'll literally go blind -- those big eyes of yours aren't freakish at all!
You can also thank Lady Gaga for this.
Once your sight is in danger, it's on to the eyelid glue, which is kind of a putty that you use to get rid of that pesky Asian "monolid." Here's an actual quote from a tutorial on applying the stuff:
"Apply eyelid glue or tape to the eyes and using the pusher stick, poke into the lid what shape you want until you get a crease."
So, just to be clear, "pusher sticks" are a real thing, and what the sticks are pushing is the eye zone. And the people who are pushing their eyes with sticks are doing so because they want to look more like cartoon characters and less like human beings.
See if you can chart the circular cultural path of this phenomenon. It starts with artwork that creates crude caricatures of women (huge, innocent eyes, girlish figures with giant boobs, usually in schoolgirl costumes or some other fetish gear) and then becomes so popular that real, actual women want to alter their appearance to look, not like some real Hollywood actress but like a drawing. It's the fact that they're not human that makes them attractive.
That makes us rethink what we said before -- about how 20 years from now RealDolls will be so lifelike everyone will want one. Instead, real women will just start altering their appearance to look like RealDolls. Artificial people don't need to make it out of the uncanny valley. Real people will just meet them there.
Photoshop is Filling Magazines With Dead-Eyed Humanoids
On the magazine cover below, what appears to be a department store mannequin is in fact supposed to be 63-year-old TV chef Paula Deen:
What the hell?
Look, as long as there have been photos, there have been tricks to make models look their best. We have no problem with that -- if we're ever stuck on the cover of a magazine, we hope they take the time to edit the red out of our bloodshot eyes and pixelate out the nudity. Photoshop is just one more tool for editors to clear up whatever the hair and makeup team miss.
So what's the problem?
This isn't about how fashion magazines create an unrealistic body image for women to live up to -- simple makeup, lighting and supermodels can accomplish that. It's the fact that they now have to tamper with every photo until it crosses from "real" to "perfect" to "too perfect" to "THIS IS SOMETHING FROM MY NIGHTMARES."
They aren't just erasing blemishes anymore, or smoothing over wrinkles to take off a few years. They're erasing the humanity. Limbs and torsos are getting pinched and twisted into deformed horrors:
What makes the Paula Deen example so baffling is that she's not a supermodel. She's an elderly TV cooking show host. Her job doesn't depend on her looks in any way. Which is fortunate, because a sentient doll has apparently ripped off her face, and is wearing it as a mask.
It doesn't matter what your profession is -- it's now so common to manipulate faces into these ageless Madame Tussauds wax museum exhibits that no human-looking face can be allowed on a cover.
This man is made of wax.
CGI Humans Are More Terrifying Than Ever
The entertainment world badly wants to perfect a digital character indistinguishable from a real human. Every failed attempt (see: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) just encourages them. On the one hand, animators are definitely getting closer to creating images that are so perfect the average viewer can't tell he's looking at someone who doesn't exist. For example, meet Emily:
Pretty, yeah? Wait until you see her talk.
Yikes. According to her creators, she is the first CGI creation to make it across the gap that is the uncanny valley. She's so human-looking you won't be able to accept her as anything but human after seeing her. Except for the fact that it doesn't work, this project was a complete success. At freaking us out.
So what's the problem?
While a still image of Emily looks pretty normal, the video has subtle hints of wrongness. Her eyes and mouth don't quite sit right. There are seconds where her mouth stretches oddly, just enough to tip you off that either something is amiss or you're as high as a kite. That's the thing: Humans have evolved to recognize hundreds and hundreds of little nonverbal cues in the faces of the people we're talking to. Mimicking that nonverbal communication is much harder than simply imitating human speech.
To achieve just this level of reality the creators started out with a real actress talking, then broke down her movements into smaller and smaller movements, and then painstakingly recreated those same movements using a computer, all the while ignoring the nagging feeling that there's probably an easier way to catch a human on video.
Dissecting humanness into smaller and smaller pieces works great when you're a cannibal or a pathologist, not so much when you're trying to recreate a human. The eyes are just a little too much on the corpsey side to pull it off. At best, you end up with characters who creep you out in a subtle way, like an uncle touching your knee casually.
Of course, then you have the much more common and more crude examples on your nearest video game console:
Pretend the ball is your leg, and Kobe is "Uncle Kobe."
Or you can look at the "revolutionary" technique that gave us the most horrifying version of Tom Hanks ever put on film ...
And that's including The Da Vinci Code.
We seem to have entered a weird era in which we're many years away from computer hardware powerful enough to perfectly mimic human features, but our movies and video games insist on trying their damndest. The result is that 50 years from now, our grandchildren will dig up our DVDs and game discs and will find this whole era to be as creepy as shit.
To learn more about altering your appearance, check out The 7 Most Pointlessly Horrifying Plastic Surgery Procedures. Or learn about some famous celebrities who altered their appearances to get famous, in 5 Celebrity Careers Launched by Ethnic Makeovers.
And stop by Linkstorm to see DOB taking his RealDoll out for a night on the town.
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