A new meetup in Glasgow designed to be a forum to explore ideas around our digital lives and their real life implications.
In 1970, Masahiro Mori, then a robotics professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, developed a hypothesis on human reactions to robots. Mori plotted this on a graph with ‘affinity’ on one axis and ‘human likeness’ on the other. We are indifferent to industrial robots and find toy robots cute. Our comfort even allows for a little more aesthetic sophistication. But at a certain point when skin, eyes and animatronics get too close to being human apathy drops of abruptly to become discomfort and revulsion. Mori termed this characteristic dip the uncanny valley.
Anything with a close to human appearance can produce this effect. Androids, life-like dolls, computer game characters or CGI in movies can illicit this dip. Maybe the movements are slightly wrong, the skin isn’t quite right, a stare is too intense or wanders in an unseeing way. The human mind tries to see another human but something isn’t quite right in some unnerving way.These subtle differences flash like alarms to the human unconscious. They produce a moment - a double-take - that breaks the fourth wall of reality.
The Uncanny Valley meetup proposes that our digital lives also exist within the uncanny valley. Take the algorithms that control what we see online. These opaque machine curators try to ape peer groups by remixing data to present us with the opinions, ideas and entertainment it thinks we want. This means we do not get new ideas. We are not being challenged, but ushered into echo chambers where ideas are recycled in recursive loops that intensify with each click. This flawed imitation of a peer group can manifest in real world peer-groups bonded by extreme ideas and conspiracies. This has polarised and transformed our politics with frightening speed. The true power of the algorithm has been to encourage a society of groups that, like algorithms, do not challenge each other.
Mori was focused on how robots would look, our world is governed by how they act. This is the new uncanny valley. It is a world of algorithms, data breaches and surveillance capitalism. It is speaking to helpful personal assistants like Siri or Alexa while knowing they are mining your behaviour.
The purpose of the uncanny valley meetup is to be a forum to discuss these digital problems and their real-world feedback. Drawn from a variety of viewpoints and disciplines, speakers will be who people who are trying to solve or make sense of these issues. Join us as we explore solutions of a technical and non technical nature. Taking in ideas from: science, technology, politics, art, communication, etc.