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

Why aren’t virtual humans totally realistic?

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

Asked by: Clive Boakes, Derby


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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