The 'uncanny valley' and why robots like the Terminator are so terrifying

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If watching the Terminator left you cowering behind the sofa, you are not alone.

When it comes to cyborgs, robots, and AI powered digital helpers the creepiest ones are those which look most like us.

A study about artificial intelligence has found ‘humanoid’ robots like CP30 in Star Wars are really quite likeable.

But if they look too much like people, robots tend to be disliked and mistrusted - perhaps because of a fear they could replace us in a dystopian future.

This phenomenon is known as the 'uncanny valley' - the unsettling feeling we get from robots and digital agents that are human-like but still somehow different. 

Our fears of certain robots even showed up in MRI brain scans, with activity spotted in ancient brain regions that deal with threats and social bonding. 

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 If watching the Terminator left you cowering behind the sofa, you are not alone. When it comes to cyborgs, robots, an AI powered digital helpers the creepiest ones are those which look most like us (file photo)

Scientists led by the University of Cambridge showed 21 people robots ranging from ‘mechanoids’ (left and centre) like R2D2 in Star Wars to ‘artificial humans’ very similar to us (right)

Scientists led by the University of Cambridge showed 21 people robots ranging from ‘mechanoids’ (left and centre) like R2D2 in Star Wars to ‘artificial humans’ very similar to us (right)

HOW DID THE STUDY WORK? 

The study used pictures of real people, ‘mechanoid’ robots with only a primitive head shape, ‘humanoids’ like CP30 and androids like Data from Star Trek, as well as more modern artificial humans.

The ‘artificial humans’ looked flawless and smooth but with slightly exaggerated features such as larger lips or abnormally high cheekbones.

Rating each of the pictures for likeability, the 21 people in the study preferred robots which looked like humans - until they looked too human.

 The artificial humans were the most unpopular, liked about half as much as pictures of real people in the study.

Scientists led by the University of Cambridge showed 21 people robots ranging from ‘mechanoids’ ranging from ‘mechanoids’ like R2D2 and 'humanoids' like C3P0 in Star Wars to ‘artificial humans’ very similar to us like Terminator.

They found people liked the human-like robots, with their strange, flawless faces, much less than robots which were clearly mechanical. 

Dr Fabian Grabenhorst, senior author of the study, said: ‘People in our study were less likely to like or be willing to receive a gift from the most human-like artificial agents. 

'They can be seen as creepy because they just don’t look quite right.

‘These artificial humans trigger the part of the brain which responds to threats - an old part of the brain in evolutionary terms. 

'According to some theories, this may be because humans fear of being replaced by them.

‘Designers could consider this as they create robots. Robots are already being tested as companions in care homes in some countries, so it is important to understand how we respond to them as social partners.’

The study used pictures of real people, ‘mechanoid’ robots with only a primitive head shape, ‘humanoids’ like CP30 and androids like Data from Star Trek, as well as more modern artificial humans.

The ‘artificial humans’ looked flawless and smooth but with slightly exaggerated features such as

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