In this talk and short performance, I take the audience on a trip to the uncanny valley – the place where objects, robots and cartoon characters unsettle us because they seem too humanlike. From dolls, golems and unfortunate robotics experiments to disturbing early encounters with sound recording and ventriloquism, I’ll delve into the psychology of uncanniness as I explore some possible explanations for this phenomenon. I consider why the existence of an uncanny valley, first postulated in 1970 by cognitive scientist Masahiro Mori, remains a contentious but compelling hypothesis. I also look at more venerable notions of the uncanny, from early psychologists such as Ernst Jentsch and from European folklore. This show features a performance by my own robotic, ventriloquial sidekick Hugo.
Read Unheimlich Manoeuvres– a short essay on ventriloquism and the uncanny, for The Wire.
See a talk on time travel for Hack Circus which considers another instantiation of the uncanny.
As seen at: The Odditorium, Port Eliot; Canterbury Science Festival; and Science Museum (evening event for adults). A longer variant of this show, incorporating music, was performed by Spacedog and Professor Elemental at The Hen & Chickens, London, and Marlborough Theatre, Brighton. Read a review of the Hen & Chickens show from Franco Milazzo, The Londonist. I’ve also performed with Hugo and spoken about robots and the uncanny on The Click, BBC World Service.