Empathy with inanimate objects and the uncanny valley

Minds and Machines 19 (3):345-359 (2009)
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The term “uncanny valley” goes back to an article of the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. He put forward the hypothesis that humanlike objects like certain kinds of robots elicit emotional responses similar to real humans proportionate to their degree of human likeness. Yet, if a certain degree of similarity is reached emotional responses become all of a sudden very repulsive. The corresponding recess in the supposed function is called the uncanny valley. The present paper wants to propose a philosophical explanation why we feel empathy with inanimate objects in the first place, and why the uncanny valley occurs when these objects become very humanlike. The core of this explanation—which is informed by the recently developing empirical research on the matter—will be a form of empathy involving a kind of imaginative perception. However, as will be shown, imaginative perception fails in cases of very humanlike objects



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