A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘isaac asimov

[NEWS] Eleven New Year’s Eve links: time, Metropass, Toronto, data, Syria, technology, retrofuture

  • This L.M. Sacasas essay at the Frailest Thing about our contemporary struggles with time, with the sense that time is escaping us faster than we can follow it, is a timely read for New Year’s Eve.</li.
  • Steve Munro celebrates the venerable Metropass of Toronto, giving way at the end of today after nearly four decades to the Presto card.
  • Ben Spurr writes at the Toronto Star about how Metropass fan Nathan Ng is trying to put together an online collection of all 464 of these cards.
  • Christopher Hume writes at the Toronto Star about ten things people in Toronto can do in 2019 to make their city better, starting with boosting the Rail Deck Park.
  • Motherboard notes that a vast store of works previously kept under copyright is set to enter the public domain, and why this will happen.
  • Wired notes that 2018 is a year where people began to recognize the importance of their public data. Will 2019 be a year of belated attempts to protect this?
  • Adnan Khan at MacLean’s notes that the Syria where the Assad regime is set to declare its complete victory over opponents is not going to be a country that Syrian refugees will want to return to.
  • The New York Times links to seven of its articles exploring ways for individuals to live better lives in 2019.
  • This Quartzy essay makes the case for giving up on New Year’s resolutions as, among other things, overly inflexible.
  • Rosie Spinks at Quartzy makes the case that a life thesis is better than New Year’s resolutions.
  • The Toronto Star shares an Isaac Asimov essay from 1983 in which he sought to predict 2019. (He was right about the importance of superpower conflict, right about education if optimistic in predicting adaptation, wrong about Moon colonies.)

[BRIEF NOTE] On the uncanny valley

Have we come up with a new explanation behind homo sapiens sapiens‘ singular existence and the fear of robots? Wired UK’s Mark Brown has reported on a recent study that provides non-anecdotal evidence of the existence of the “uncanny valley”. Wikipedia, below.

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970, and has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of “the uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay, “On the Psychology of the Uncanny.” Jentsch’s conception was elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

[. . .]

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, a human observer’s emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the appearance continues to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

Says Brown,

Saygin also recruited the help of Repliee Q2, an especially human-like robot from Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University. Q2 has 13 degrees of freedom on her face alone, and uses her posable eyes, brows, cheeks, lids, lips and neck to make facial expressions and mouth shapes.

The team made videos of Repliee Q2 performing actions like waving, nodding, taking a drink of water and picking up a piece of paper from a table. Then, the same actions were performed by the Japanese woman whom Q2 is based on. Finally, the researchers stripped the robot of its synthetic skin and hair to reveal a Terminator-style metal robot with dangling wires and visible circuits.

The subjects were shown each of the videos and were informed about which was a robot and which human. Then, the subjects’ brains were scanned in an fMRI machine.

When viewing the real human and the metallic robot, the brains showed very typical reactions. But when presented with the uncanny android, the brain “lit up” like a Christmas tree.

When viewing the android, the parietal cortex — and specifically in the areas that connect the part of the brain’s visual cortex that processes bodily movements with the section of the motor cortex thought to contain mirror (or empathy) neurons — saw high levels of activity.

It suggests that the brain couldn’t compute the incongruity between the android’s human-like appearance and its robotic motion. In the other experiments — when the onscreen perfomer looks human and moves likes a human, or looks like a robot and moves like a robot — our brains are fine. But when the two states are in conflict, trouble arises.

“The brain doesn’t seem tuned to care about either biological appearance or biological motion per se,” said Saygin, assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego. “What it seems to be doing is looking for its expectations to be met — for appearance and motion to be congruent.”

Over at the article, there are two comments of particular interest.

  • Might the existence of the uncanny valley help explain why homo sapiens sapiens is the only hominid species still around? If “nearly-but-not-quite” human beings were around, the commenter suggested, might the reaction have been to kill them off? Maybe, I suppose–certainly there’s enough evidence of racism motivated by anger that different population groups don’t behave the way that normal people should–but then the latest genetic researches have demonstrated that Neanderthals and the like did interbreed, maybe even that they didn’t go extinct so much as get assimilated.
  • The second commenter refers to the works of Isaac Asimov, famed science-fiction pioneer of robotics, and his suggestion in his future history that people eventually rejected the “humaniform” robot because it was too uncannily human-like. Did Asimov make a successful prediction about the future?

And, of course, don’t forget the Cylons!

Written by Randy McDonald

July 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm

[REVIEW] Isaac Asimov, Caves of Steel

I have read and I do like the stories of I, Robot, and when I was much, much younger I did read the Foundation trilogy along with Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. Despite this, I hadn’t gotten around to reading The Caves of Steel. I remedied this lack over the weekend.

The verdict? Surprisingly good.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 18, 2006 at 2:57 pm