Intermediaries: reflections on virtual humans, gender, and the Uncanny Valley [Book Review]

AI and Society 26 (4):319-327 (2011)
Abstract
Embodied interface agents are designed to ease the use of technology. Furthermore, they present one possible solution for future interaction scenarios beyond the desktop metaphor. Trust and believability play an important role in the relationship between user and the virtual counterpart. In order to reach this goal, a high degree of anthropomorphism in appearance and behavior of the artifact is pursued. According to the notion of the Uncanny Valley, however, this actually may have quite the opposite effect. This article provides an analysis of the Uncanny Valley effect from a cultural and gender studies perspective. It invites readers to take a closer look at the narratives that influence the production of anthropomorphic artifacts. The article starts with a short introduction of the idea of the Uncanny Valley and gives a brief overview of current artifacts. Following this, a semiotic view on computer science is proposed, which in a further step serves as an epistemological grounding for a gender-critical rereading of the Turing test. This perspective will be supported by analyzing a classic story of user and artifact—E.T.A. Hoffmann’s narration of Olimpia. Finally, the special character of anthropomorphic artifacts is discussed by taking Freud’s concept of “Das Unheimliche”, as well as theories of identity formation into consideration, closing with a plea for a more diverse artifact production.
Keywords Uncanny Valley  Turing test  Anthropomorphism  Gender  Psychoanalysis  Human–computer interaction  Theory  Cultural studies
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