culture cheat-sheet

Preview: Uncanny Valley

Hand2Mouth’s latest work, named after a theory that explains robots’ unfortunate credibility issues, hurtles into the mysterious realm of "memory." Watch the trailer, learn some science, and read a company member’s notes.

By Anne Adams May 10, 2011

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“uncanny valley,” the scientific theory
They may be tough as titanium, but robots have a weak spot when it comes to making friends. The “uncanny valley” theory of robotics describes the problem: Generally, the more humanoid a robot appears, the more people will like it—but only to a point. Past a certain point of believability, there’s a sudden dip (or uncanny valley) on the likability side of the graph. Why? At the threshold of believable humanity, we forget that a ’bot’s still a ‘bot. We start to expect a lifelike robot to make “normal” human gestures—and then become unnerved by its remaining mechanized quirks. This is why people shudder at the latest Japanese stewardess robot, but coo and clap for, say, a shiny metal dog-bot. They see the stewardess-bot as a creepy, untrustworthy human, while they see the dog-bot as a delightfully lifelike robot. (If you apply this notion beyond the robot realm, to people who are simply “programmed” differently from you, you’ll instantly sense the emotional and ethical complications. But we don’t necessarily have to go there today.)

Uncanny Valley, the performance piece
Hand2Mouth’s latest offering, also named Uncanny Valley, riffs on themes of memory and sci-fi, and seems to be framed like a psychological thriller, complete with glassy shrieks and Blair Witch breathing. While watching the following trailer, note your revulsion at the half-defined “humanoids,” and your relief when living human faces finally appear. It’s uncanny.

Notes from Company Member Erin Leddy
So, as you’ve read, the show is about searching for and uncovering our memories. The subject is rich with potential darkness. What is out there in this mysterious space that we have forgotten or changed or buried? What will emerge when we are prompted to remember? Anything could happen, so there is a strong element of suspense and thrill. And almost like in a dream, these memories begin to appear and layer, through image and language in a sometimes strange and often surprising way.

The suspense and darkness, however, is matched by exuberance, wonder and silliness, so it doesn’t in the end emerge as a “horror.” Although who can say what will happen for you, the audience? We hope to invite and induce your own memories to appear to you and we can certainly not account for that. :)

Hand2Mouth’s Uncanny Valley will be at Artists Repertory Theatre May 12-22. For more about Portland arts events, visit PoMo’s Arts & Entertainment Calendar, stream content with an RSS feed, or sign up for our weekly On The Town Newsletter!

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