Robotics: Unsettling Encounters in the Valley of Weirdness – Sciences et Avenir

This article is taken from Les Indispensables de Sciences et Avenir #210 July/September 2022.

At the latest global digital exhibition CES (Consumer Electronic Show), held in Las Vegas from January 5 to 7, 2022, a humanoid robot named Ameka became the star. The hand movements, the expressive face, the conversation fueled by artificial intelligence… We would almost mistake him for a human. A few years earlier, Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro had already created an event by unveiling his near-perfect “twin”.

The cognitive dissonance

However, in one case, as in another, je-ne-sais-quoi seems wrong. Faced with an object – a robot, a doll or a prosthesis – more or less anthropomorphic, one can really feel some awkwardness. “Something is telling us in an unsettling way that this is not a human,” sums up Bertrand Tondu, a robotics researcher at the Laboratory for Analysis and Architecture of Systems (Laas-CNRS) in Toulouse. Cognitive dissonance, known as the “Valley of the Weird”, theorized by the Japanese Masahiro Mori in the 1970s, long before the first humanoid creations.

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