The Second Uncanny Valley

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new Tintin movie in the context of the Uncanny Valley (read my article here).

While searching around for a clear diagram illustrating the principle, I stumbled upon an article called The Second Uncanny Valley on a site called Open the Future, which features a load of really interesting stuff by a guy called Jamais Cascio.

Cascio is a futurist who centres his thinking on the question: “what if human beings, and all of our technology, could actually manage to change things for the better?” He’s an optimist, and one who’s interested in ideas as far ranging as geoengineering, climate science, renewables, open source, emerging tech, social networks, ethics and transhumanism. He’s also spoken at TED. Interesting bloke, really.

Which is why when I saw the below, in the context of the above, I felt quite childish when my access point to considering his ‘Second Uncanny Valley’ as an academic framework are media such as Transmetropolitan, Neuromancer or even Lawnmower Man. Take a look:

Just for clarity, his principle thought is that in a posthuman world, Masahiro Mori‘s Uncanny Valley theory (green area) would need to be extended out into this new blue area:

Once a significant number of us are opting for cosmetic cyborgism, seeking out other human upgrades, or even just trying to fake it, we’ll probably feel quite weird about having transhumans (or homo superior as Magneto might say) walking among us. That’s the second uncanny valley, right there.

Guys like Kevin Warwick (pictured left) are probably the first wave of posthumanism yet to plunge into this new uncanny valley. All he has is a chip in his arm that opens doors on his university campus. He claims to be the “world’s first cyborg”, but as many of you will know, the upcoming singularity will see a lot more of us merging with the machine world.

The ultimate end, perhaps the ‘radical posthuman’ at the far right of Cascio’s model, might be an entirely discarnate consciousness: thought without body, or more likely a digital embodiment. And that’s as familiar, on this scale, as the industrial robots at the opposite end. But Cascio might say ‘not in a way that’s uncanny’. And he’d go on to say:

I wanted to be clear on a distinction between things made/evolved to be like humans, and things made/evolved from humans […] the H+ era is likely to see a diversity of morphologies, both physical and cognitive.

Not to put words in his mouth, but with all of the things we might evolve to become, physically, mentally, virtually or otherwise, I think the idea is that we make a sort of ‘leap across’ the second uncanny valley to a place where we’re comfortable with our future lives.

Basically, technology, don’t creep us out.

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Tom Saunter

I like to think about the media, technology, pop-culture & the future. When not blogging, I tweet @freedimensional & work @MediaComUK. Feel free to visit my Personal Bio to learn more about me.