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Why aren’t virtual humans totally realistic? © Getty Images

Why aren’t virtual humans totally realistic?

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Beware the uncanny valley when you are building an artificial intelligence.

Asked by: Clive Boakes, Derby

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Realism is all about our preconceptions. When simulated organisms look like cartoons, we accept them. As they look more real, we think they’re a bit freaky – like zombies – because their artificial intelligence and range of movements are not good enough to make them behave naturally. This dip in our acceptance as realism improves is called ‘the uncanny valley’ in research – or as I like to call it, ‘the freaky effect’. You need a clever brain to move and behave appropriately, and our AIs are still too simple to cope. One day, if we could make them clever enough to be indistinguishable from real, then we might truly accept them.

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Authors

Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.

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