Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Are Clowns So Horrifying? Some Robots So Unsettling?

My first circus, I was 4 years old. Not thrilled about the awful music, the smells or the huge elephants, but the minute the clown showed up and looked my way--I went running and screaming and no one could pull me back into the tent again!

Clowns are too happy, unnaturally happy. Their features are exaggerated and the human beneath can almost be discerned. His mouth is not as big as the one drawn on, his eyes are not as big as they are drawn on. We see an incongruity in what they pretend to be and what they are. There may be somewhere in our human DNA a bullshit button when it comes to genuine facial expressions.

How about the real-life John Wayne Gacy? The part-time clown/full-time serial killer?

Need anymore confirmation that clowns are evil? Check this out....

A friend dared me to add to my dark anthology erotica series a story about sex with a clown. I did it, and I think I managed to make it feasible and disturbing. It's sold as a single story in Coulrophilia (Love of Clowns) on Kindle and Nook.

What about robots? Why are the tin ones fine but the human-like ones so disturbing?

(Wikipedia) The "uncanny valley" hypothesis holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, 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 life-likeness. This hypothesis was created by a robot-maker, Masahiro Mori.

Basically, it is the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting.

Have you ever seen a wax museum figure of say, Princess Di, but there’s something just a little bit off about the proportions of expression that makes it just wrong.

Have you seen those awful commercials where they use actors but the “cartoon” them up just slightly? Does it give you the shivers?

Ever see a video game where the animated characters are so human like, you have to study them closely to realize they aren’t and when you find that not-human aspect of them, they suddenly make you uncomfortable?

Ever seen a dog look at a stuffed dog and bark and get very upset, even though the doll is very dog-like?

Those are all examples of the uncanny valley.

Future development of robots might just depend on that brilliant theory. Just look at the two robots above? Would the one little guy be like having an adorable helpful pet? Would the other be like having a human without a soul nearby?

With the exception of lonely nerds wanting a dream girlfriend in their home, the sale-ability of near-human robots looks very iffy. Personally, I'd like to think of a robot as a helpful machine. I don't want it to be human-like. I don't want to make an emotional connection with it. I don't want to transfer my bonding I should have with a living breathing being to a mechanical creation. It would be like talking to my vacuum cleaner and expecting it to care about me in return.

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