Performativity · Technology · Theory

Social robotics: The uncanny valley and Psychopathic narcissism

(PhysOrg.com) — From science fiction and academia through assembly lines and telemedicine, robots have become both physically and conceptually ubiquitous. Technologically, of course, robots have advanced dramatically since their namesake introduction in R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), a 1920 Czech-language science fiction play in which robot was the English version of robota, meaning forced labor, in turn derived from rab, or slave. Today’s animated and physical robots, however – imbued with artificial intelligence, artificial muscles, vision and pattern recognition, speech recognition and synthesis, sensors and actuators, and increasingly sophisticated interactivity – seem to be approaching those envisioned in Isaac Asimov’s seminal work I, Robot. But something’s still glaringly missing – namely, the ability to seamlessly interact with humans and other robots in a spontaneous, natural way that does not rely exclusively on specific preprogrammed behaviors. This is far more difficult than it seems, owing largely to the challenge of computationally emulating evolutionarily-determined perceptually-and emotionally-mediated contextual engagement. Enter Social Robotics: the effort to make robots more… well, sociable.

Social Robotics has its roots in the mid-20th century work of William Grey Walter, a neurophysiologist and roboticist who constructed autonomous electronic robots to demonstrate that complex behavior could arise from robust connectivity between just a few neurons. As robots became more sophisticated and animations more realistic, it was found that our empathy for these human analogues grew with their similarity to ourselves. But there’s a catch: As robots become increasingly humanoid in appearance and behavior past a certain point, a phenomenon known as the uncanny valley emerges.

A phrase introduced in 1970 by robotics professor Masahiro Mori, the uncanny valley is best described as the reaction we have to robotic appearance or behavior when it is perceived as almost human. The gap between barely human and fully human leaves us feeling uneasy as a result of the way evolution has shaped our brains when perceiving familiarity – especially that of anthropomorphic forms. As Mori wrote in his original paper about a prosthetic hand that is lifelike o the eye but not to the touch (and as translated by Karl F. MacDorman and Takashi Minato), “In mathematical terms, strangeness can be represented by negative familiarity, so the prosthetic hand is at the bottom of the valley. So in this case, the appearance is quite human like, but the familiarity is negative. This is the uncanny valley. Continue HERE

Geminoid Research. Copyright. The Uncanny Valley. Courtesy: Masahiro Mori, Karl F. MacDorman, Takashi Minato

Couldn’t help thinking about Frankenstein and the word narcissism when looking at the “obvious similarities” in the picture above. Turning around the corner, I came upon this video from Sam Vaknin, author of the book “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited.” Here, Vaknin explains his views on Psychopathic Narcissists, Cold Empathy, and the Uncanny Valley.

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