Friday, August 11, 2006

Robots and the Psychopath

There is this fun theory in the world of humanoid robotics. It is called Mori's Uncanny Valley. The basic gist is as androids appear more human they cross a threshold and suddenly are very creepy looking. This can be traced to how we psychologically process objects. Basically humans process things into two categories, other humans and everything else. This can be seen in experiments done on infants involving disappearing people. It can also be seen in all the domain-specific circuitry we have. Things like facial recognition really only applys to other people. We can detect subtle hues in the skin to indicate health of a person.

The android isnt designed to work with these cues. So, the movements and appearance of these androids are lifelike enough that they no longer look like machines but more like re-animated corpses. This is obviously a bit unpleasant, but it is not so obvious that your finger can be placed on it. Now since this is a valley, it is suggested that as you work on making the android more human it will become less creepy and eventually look just like a real person.

I believe the psychological mechanisms behind the Uncanny Valley will soon affect the realms of artificial intelligence. As intelligent agents approach the intelligence of human beings they will first behave like people with autism. There will most of the cognitive mechanisms in place, but many of the holistic elements are just gone. This shares with the uncanny valley the trait that the agent's behavior is very similar to symptoms of illness and disease.

While it is unlikely that there will be any sociopathic symptoms like in movies. The signs of mental illness is what we most likely have in store for ourselves. Just as the "uncanny valley" triggered reactions we have for physical diseases so just this behavior. The complaint we will soon see is not that it speaks too mechanically, but too much like a psychopath.

Check wikipedia for more information or just watch Repliee Q1 you will see this in action.


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