Why, the more like a human robot, the more frightening and creepy we find them?

Around the years 2004-2005, when the robot Asimo first came to Vietnam, this event made all 9x children of our generation extremely excited. VTV3 even made an hour-long live broadcast to introduce the robot.

I still remember vividly the moment Asimo stepped into the spotlight. It greeted everyone in a friendly way and then began demonstrating movements, climbing stairs, kicking a ball and holding objects. Those are very cute memories that I get from robots called ‘android‘, or robots that simulate humans.

Generally speaking, robots that have the form or perform human functions are often more attractive than robots with a machine shape. Our fondness for Asimo or even Simsimi (a virtual chicken that can chat like a human) completely overwhelms the cold feeling of seeing robotic arms in a car factory or even. Brain surgery robot lice.

However, human love for android robot seems to stop at a certain point.

From fun to creepy: Effects “strange valley“as robots become more and more human

In 2018, Asimo was killed by Honda. At the same time, Sophia – another Android robot visited Vietnam. Although it also attracted media attention, this event created a very opposite feeling. There was no live broadcast on national radio, Sophia only got one report on VTV1.

Kids aren’t excited about the new robot now, and 9x kids like me start to find something odd that is hard to explain.

Contrary to the circle of people circling Asimo with happy smiles and excited eyes, Sophia’s arrival in Vietnam was like a sleepy and awkward press conference. Sophia sat solemnly in one place and conversed with the full halls.

Why the more like a human robot the more frightening and creepy we find them | Live

Equipped with artificial intelligence, this robot can talk, answer you when questions are translated from Vietnamese into English and even make eye contact. In particular, it has half of the front face almost identical to human with artificial skin made of silicon.

Underneath that skin is a micro-mechanical system that mimics facial muscles. Sophia is therefore able to simulate more than 60 different emotions through her facial expressions. This robot is a humanoid version that surpasses both Asimo and Simsimi in terms of body and intelligence. Perhaps the cute robots of the past are just silly ancestors for it.

Sophia even vowed to destroy humanity.


I’m definitely not the only one who feels something is wrong in the face of increasingly improved Android robots. As robots are made more human, they begin to lose their cuteness and friendliness.

Instead, people began to feel loathed about being faced with a humanoid robot. In a scientific paper published in the journal Perception, researchers from Emory University explain that there is a psychological effect called “strange valley“.

There was a valley that had pulled the smiles around Asimo out of the way and then gave off a sense of wonder and horror in the face of Sophia.

Why the more like a human robot the more frightening and creepy we find them | Live

We will have a hard time distinguishing between robots and humans

Robots are increasingly invading human society, in everything from education to healthcare“, said Dr. Wang Shensheng new study author at Emory University. “Therefore, from the perspective of both engineers and psychologists, it is very important to understand how humans face and perceive robots.”

In a trend of the times, robots are increasingly being developed to look and act more like humans. At some point, humans will certainly have a difficult time distinguishing between robots and humans.

To prove it, Shensheng and colleagues ran an experiment. He recruited a group of volunteers and asked them to look at screens showing three types of images: a real human face, a mechanical robot face, and an android face that resembles a human.

The time for faces to show up was adjusted to millisecond models to capture the brain responses of volunteers when they saw them.

The results showed that for real human faces and mechanical robot faces, volunteers can perceive them very clearly and consistently. They know and be certain it’s a real person or a machine.

But with the face of Android, a “tStrange valley“appeared. Over a period of 100-500 milliseconds, the volunteers initially thought it was a human. But soon they discovered it was a robot.

That timing is in line with previous research showing that people begin to differentiate between human and artificial faces about 400 milliseconds after stimulation has started.

Why the more like a human robot the more frightening and creepy we find them | Live

Evolution of robots to simulate humans.

Humanization, or projecting of human qualities on inanimate objects is a common psychological phenomenon. “For example, we often see faces in clouds. And sometimes we also humanize the machines that we’re trying to understand like cars or computers“, said Dr. Shensheng.

However, naming one’s car or imagining that a cloud is a cartoony creature is usually not related to a sense of the odd, he noted. That leads Dr. Shensheng to hypothesize that something other than anthropomorphization can happen when a human is confronted with a robot like an android.

His experiments revealed that it was the act of realizing that robots are not humans. A reverse process of anthropomorphization is called “dehumanizing“And that’s the effect behind the feeling.”strange valley“that we encounter.

With mechanically shaped robots like Asimo, our brain fully recognizes it as a robot. But we will be very happy and happy to give it personalization, watch it walk, dance or play football.

In contrast to Sophia, because it’s so human, our brain is constantly “dehumanizing “ of this robot to realize it’s not human. It is therefore quite odd and scary for us to be faced with Sophia’s facial expressions, hearing this robot speak or a conversation.

The whole process is very complicated but it just happens in the blink of an eye “, said Dr. Shensheng. “Our results show that at first glance, we usually humanize an android, but within a few hundred milliseconds, we detect the deviation and de-humanize it. This effect can contribute to feeling in the strange valley.

The androids will creep into human society

Actroid – another human-like android developed by Japan

The core of this research answers the question of what we feel when we look at a face“, Adds Philippe Rochat, professor of psychology at Emory University.”That is probably one of the most important questions in psychology “.

The ability to perceive the mind of others is the foundation of human relationships and in the future, human and robot. New findings on effects “strange valley “ It makes sense for both robot design and understanding how we perceive each other as humans.

In that area, effects “strange valley” may shed light on some of the mechanisms involved in mental blindness. In particular, a person with severe autism or mental disorders is often unable to distinguish between inanimate objects and human beings.

As for robot design engineers, perhaps they will have to find a way to regain the friendliness of the robot, if not to evoke feelings of horror and fear. That might be something we need to consider when creating robots that serve specific areas like caring for the elderly or communicating with children.

Could an overly humanoid robot create a phobia for young children rather than feeling friendly like a friend? Should we increase the likeness of the elderly care robots to create a warmer feeling?

That is just one of the questions we have to answer right now, as robots are becoming more and more human and creeping into our lives.

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