H.R. Giger and The Uncanny Valley

Marcello Sachs '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

H.R. Giger's artwork often displays humans and machines in a cold, interconnected relationship; his style is known as "Bio-Mechanical."

The painting above depicts something that is neither human nor machine. According to the Uncanny Valley Theory, machines that are almost human receive negative emotional responses from people. However, the creature above seems to be far from almost-human and yet is still unsettling, disgusting. Does this painting then disprove the Uncanny Valley Theory? To answer this question, one must consider how one can exactly define "almost-human." There are many aspects to being human, including appearance, personality, voice and organic composition. Considering the complex state of human being, in which ways should a robot be "almost human" in order to fall in the Uncanny Valley? If there is no answer to this question, then the theory cannot really be tested and has no validity. In order to discover what type of almost-human creatures fall into the valley, let us examine the theory's psychological basis.

The psychological explanation for the Uncanny Valley is that almost-human robots resemble either corpses or humans with neurological diseases, both of which are naturally unsettling. Thus "almost-human," in the context of the Uncanny Valley, shall be defined as a robot/cyborg which is human enough (in whatever aspect) to consciously or subconsciously conjure thoughts of corpses or neurologically-ill people. Following this definition, one sees that H.R. Giger's painting in fact does not contradict the Uncanny Valley theory. Although the creature in the painting is in one sense far from human (the body is certainly more machine than man), the creature still conjures thoughts of a human corpse, perhaps one that has been grotesquely mutilated and affixed to a machine.

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    Last modified 31 October 2006