In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori remarked in 1970 that, as robots become more humanlike in appearance, people will respond more positively. However, a point will be reached where people will be strongly repulsed; acceptance will fall. This uncanny valley (seen if you plot acceptance versus increasingly humanoid appearance), is of great concern to those who would like to see humanoid robots play a greater role in our daily lives.
In a recent study conducted by Ayse Pinar Saygin, an assistant professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, twenty test subjects were shown videos of the Repliee Q2 android.
As they did so, their brains were scanned using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which revealed significant differences in the way they viewed the android, a metallic robot and a person.
When viewed through a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, the activity of the subjects' brains suggested that a conflict arose when they were viewing the footage of the lifelike version of the android. More specifically, activity was noted in their parietal cortex, which connects the part of the brain that processes body movements with a section of the motor cortex that is believed to help us relate to such movements. In short, Saygin believed that there was a disconcerting difference between the way in which the test subjects expected the android to move, and the way in which it did move.
"The brain doesn't seem tuned to care about either biological appearance or biological motion per se," she said. "What it seems to be doing is looking for its expectations to be met - for appearance and motion to be congruent." She added that perhaps androids and lifelike animated film characters should be run past human volunteers while still in development, to see what kind of response they elicit.