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Uncanny Doubles Freud

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Uncanny Doubles
Freud in his essay “The Uncanny” describes a feeling of discord that humans experience when presented with objects that are both familiar and strange. The discord is expressed in humans by being both attracted by, but at the same time repulsed by, an object. Based on Freud’s description of the uncanny Mori wrote an essay describing the instances in which humans have a negative reaction when encountered with something uncanny. To describe and explain human reaction’s to certain objects Mori uses human familiarity and human likeness, through these variables he explains what can make something fall in to the “Uncanny Valley”. Therefore different types of robots cause different reactions to humans based on how much human resemblance they have. By looking at human interaction with robots, one can see that they represent Mori’s argument that those with low familiarity and high human likeness become uncanny. Humans respond positively to things that look human up to a point but when these things look human but are not a repulsive reaction develops, this is one of the reasons we find certain kinds of robots repulsive.
Researchers in Japan designed “Child-Robot with Biomimetic” which is also known as CB2. “The robot weights 73 pounds and stands 4 feet tall, has 56 actuators that control its motion and 197 sensors that simulate touch”(Techworld News). CB2 looks like a bald human with a rubber exterior and black eyes which are movement sensitive.CB2 develops social skills by interacting with humans and mimicking their reactions and expressions. When humans first saw CB2 they said “It’s creepy” and automatically felt scared by the strangeness of such robot. Humans saw BC2 and thought it was uncanny.
On the other hand Paro is an advanced interactive robot seal pup developed by AIST. “Paro is a robot seal with five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment” (Parobots). Paro also has an audio sensor which recognizes voice and it can learn behaviors by mimicking. When Paro interacts with people it acts like a human by responding to voice and feeling. Paro is used at nursing homes and has a positive response from its users and it helps them with stimulation of interaction. People think that “It’s cute and adorable”.
Interestingly, both robots have very similar characteristics; they are interactive robots that are touch sensitive and responsive to movement and audio. There is an explanation of why these two similarly categorized robots produce different responses to humans: Mori’s “Uncanny valley”. CB2 falls in the bottom of the valley. This is because the appearance is quite human like, because it acts like a human responds like a human and it can even learn to respond but there is negative familiarity because it is not actually a human. Mori explains this concept through the example of how a prosthetic hand can become uncanny based on its appearance. A prosthetic hand that is evidently an attached part of the body made with a material that does not look identically like skin is not human like and therefore it is not uncanny. “But recently prosthetic hands have improved greatly, and we cannot distinguish them from real hands at a glance. Some prosthetic hands attempt to simulate veins, muscles, tendons, finger nails, and finger prints, and their color resembles human pigmentation. But this kind of prosthetic hand is too real and when we notice it is prosthetic, we have a sense of strangeness. So if we shake the hand, we are surprised by the lack of soft tissue and cold temperature. In this case, there is no longer a sense of familiarity. It is uncanny” (Mori 2). Similarly there is human likeness in BC2 because it is made in the shape and size of a normal human being, but familiarity becomes negative when we know it is not an actual human being and the touch and feel of it is not the same of that of a human being. Therefore BC2 falls in the uncanny valley.
Similar to a prosthetic hand that does not identically resemble human appearance is Paro. The creators of Paro realized that a seal pet is unusual enough to be human like or in this case pet like. Therefore the users of the robot seal are less prone to notice its robotic predisposition and therefore Paro creates a positive response from its users. People interact with it as if it were alive by feeding it and petting it but no negative reaction is caused by Paro. Users of Paro will not have negative familiarity when interacting with the robot even though it has the same interactive features that CB2 has, this is because people do not usually have a pet seal or know how a real seal reacts. Because Paro is not pet like then there is no previous experience with it that might make it uncanny to its users.
Humans can perceive something to be uncanny only if they are familiar with it from previous encounters and it looks like it but it is not quite what an original form of it looks like in appearance. The creators of Paro previously made Paro in the shape of a kitten and in the shape of a puppy, thinking that patients would like to feel company from a common pet that humans have in their homes. But this did not have good results, because there was a very high pet likeness but it was not identical to how an original puppy or kitten would actually act. The prior experience that humans commonly have with kittens and puppies compared to Paro made familiarity negative because even though they look similar to the actual pet, it does not feel and act the same way. As users interact and pet Paro familiarity becomes negative because it is a robot with a different feel and response of that of a puppy or kitten. Kitten and puppy Paro’s fell into the uncanny valley because there was negative familiarity and a high amount of pet-likeness. Therefore creators learned that for Paro to have a positive response from its users they had to make a robot pet far from pet-likeness to prevent from causing negative familiarity and falling into the uncanny valley. Paro baby seal is a robot that does not fall into the uncanny valley according to Mori, “We hope to design robots or prosthetic hands that will not fall into the uncanny valley”(Mori 4).
We are used to thinking about robots as a form of technology but we rarely think of them as something that causes the same affection to us that is caused by another human being. In fact, we see robots as another type of creature which is not living. But it can be often seen, for example with Paro, how humans are as affectionate to this robot seal as to an actual human being. They treat it as if it were a living being and they have feelings for it although they know it is not alive. For example if Paro is dropped or someone hits it, its owner feels similar pain and empathy as if a human being was the one dropped or injured. So why is this type of affection possible by human beings to non-living objects? Can our mind be manipulated? Mori suggests that this type of affection is possible and carefully constructed if there is enough amount of familiarity in an object that is foreign and not human like. This relationship can make human beings respond to objects with affection regardless if it is an actual human being or not.

Works Cited
"Paro Therapeutic Robot." Paro Therapeutic Robot. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2011.
NoyesTechNewsWorld, Katherine. "Technology News: Robotics: Researchers Create 'Creepy' Child Robot." TechNewsWorld: All Tech - All The Time. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2011. <>.
Mori, Masahiro. "The Uncanny Valley." Uncanny copyright (2005): 4. Print.

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