Tales of the Uncanny.

The Truth About Robotic's Uncanny Valley

Stick to Roombas and blue-skinned aliens and you'll be fine. But build a realistic feminine android or render a CG version of Tom Hanks in a train conductor's outfit, and the uncanny valley will swallow you whole. Unless, of course, it doesn't really exist. [...]

According to all of the roboticists and computer scientists we interviewed, the Uncanny Valley is in short supply during face-to-face contact with robots. Two of the robots that inspire the most terror -- and accompanying YouTube comments -- are Osaka University's CB2, a child-like, gray-skinned robot, and KOBIAN, Waseda University's hyper-expressive humanoid. In person, no one rejected the robots. No one screamed and threw chairs at them, or smiled politely and slipped out to report lingering feelings of abject horror. [...] The uncanny effect appears to be an incredibly specific and specialized phenomenon: It seems to happen, when it does, remotely. In person, the uncanny vanishes.


And the always-amusing OkCupid data-mining blog (previously) brings us the truth about the efficacy of using the "Myspace Shot" in your profile picture: The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures:

In terms of getting new messages, the MySpace Shot is the single most effective photo type for women. We at first thought this was just because, typically, you can kind of see down the girl's shirt with the camera at that angle -- indeed, that seems to be the point of shot in the first place -- so we excluded all cleavage-showing shots from the pool and ran the numbers again. No change: it's still the best shot; better, in fact, than straight-up boob pics (more on those later). At least from the perspective of online-dating, and perhaps social media in general, the MySpace Shot might be the best way for a woman to take a picture.

The male "Ab Shot" has the same reputation as the MySpace Shot -- it's an Internet cliché that supposedly everyone thinks is only for bozos. To wit: a journalist was visiting our office recently, and when we told her we were researching user photos, the first thing she said was "please tell me people hate it when guys show off their abs." We hadn't finished running the numbers yet, so we confidently reassured her that people did. The data contradicted us.

Of course, there is some self-selection here: the guys showing off their abs are the ones with abs worth showing, and naturally the best bodies get lots of messages. So we can't recommend this photo tactic to every man. But, contrary to everything you read about profile pictures, if you're a guy with a nice body, it's actually better to take off your shirt than to leave it on.

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11 Responses:

  1. wisn says:

    I hate the Uncanny Valley for having become a catchall pop-psych meme that assimilates all representation generated with modern technologies and excuses all kinds of ineptitude.

    "Hey, look at that 3D elf!"
    "[shudder] Dude, that's on the wrong side of the Uncanny Valley!"
    "Oh. I thought it was just bad art."

    Just think of what painting from the Renaissance onward would have been like if we had the Uncanny Valley to excuse every projunior attempt at portraiture where the eyes didn't line up, or the mouth wasn't in the center of the head. It wouldn't have been because the artist had poor motor control and worse self-judgement, it would have been the Uncanny Valley.

    • gryazi says:

      That would make sense if the "Uncanny Valley" were an excuse to create stuff we consider inept, rather than an explanation of why we consider it inept/unpleasant. Maybe you hang out with too many dorks who also say things like "We have to The Singularity because Evolution! Cory Doctorow told me!"

      The "presence" effect is interesting if it's for real, and, in retrospect, not totally unsurprising - humans have a pretty wide tolerance to survive as social critters. But it could also be that the 'valley' is just being pushed around - something creepy in a photo becomes more obviously artificial and nonthreatening in person, especially when our best AI makes a grasshopper look like Einstein - and the social effect of being at a trade show or a populated lab might be different than being locked in a room with it overnight.

      [That'd make for some interesting science, since we might be inclined to feel safety in numbers, and the perception of threat is fickle - lock someone in a room with an inactive robot and tell them it's strong enough to injure a human, lock someone else in a room after demonstrating it's all weak toy motors and fragile linkages, and see who feels more uncomfortable -- Well, duh.]

  2. fantasygoat says:

    Basically OkCupid proved that young people are vacuous, self-centred and concerned only with appearance. It's good to finally have hard data!

    • arakyd says:

      Maybe. Males with pictures of themselves with animals do as well as those who post their ab shot, and pictures of males doing something interesting are also right up there. Females who post pictures of themselves doing something interesting are much more likely to get responses that lead to conversations than those who post a MySpace shot.

      My guess is that the MySpace shot is attractive because it makes the female look more feminine (less threatening, more diminutive). I bet shots of the face taken from below eye level attract significantly less attention, especially if the female is looking into the camera, especially if she is looking straight into the camera.

      • lionsphil says:

        Yeah, they kind of invert the whole analysis with blue-guitar-girl vs pouty-duckface-MySpace girl at the end.

        Perhaps the lesson here is that if you use horrendous camera techniques to point out your breasts, you will get useless messages consisting mostly of "lol breasts".

        "If you want worthwhile messages in your inbox, the value of being conversation-worthy, as opposed to merely sexy, cannot be overstated."

      • gryazi says:

        Aren't we also supposed to have had a thing for foreheads since the ancient greeks or so? Something about big, beautiful braiiiins.

        The top-down angle is also just naturally flattering for a whole host of reasons - no risk of seeing up someone's nose, shadows unlikely to fall in a bad way, keeps the head towards the top of the frame, makes the subject seem taller (even as the viewer seems taller still)... That last is enhanced by the vagaries of optics given the switch to Minox-sized sensors from 35mm. That same effect gives it the 'in your face' look that made it so popular in advertising in the roaring '90s.

        I guess I'm not on any of these sites and haven't gotten sick of it, but it's a cheap way to get a 'modern' look, so probably also communicates things about concern-for-appearance, personal style and approachability compared to flat portraiture or some red-eyed disposable-camera mugshot. (Less trashy than the latter, less stuffy than the former.)

        Of course, photographic trends oscillate, and every once in a while the dead-flat 50mm-lens-on-35mm-camera look comes back into style... compare "glamour" photography for each decade from the '50s on (the '70s and '80s were big on it, and some reappeared in the conservative/Reagan-nostalgic '00s). I'll side with the MySpace girls in saying 'screw that, it's boring,' and also more reliant on actually having a perfect body.

  3. saltdawg says:

    Thanks for pointing the OK cupid thing out. The castrated sociologist in me got a raging hard-on reading while I read that article.

    Goddamn the internet has changed so much, I wonder if any of my atrophied sociology skills still hold any water.

    Also, if I went in for OK cupid shenanigans, I'd totally be drawn in by the shot of the woman's legs bound with the blue Sampson line before any of the other "examples".

  4. cattycritic says:

    I'm going to take a stab at explanation and suggest that the "MySpace shot" is more appealing because that's how guys envision looking at a woman, since most men are taller than women and/or tend to go for women who are shorter (note they found it wasn't the boobs).

    Guys looking directly into the camera are probably more often perceived as staring, which would make them seem aggressive or like stalkers, especially if they aren't smiling. Women can look into the camera because men wouldn't generally find a woman staring at them to be threatening.

    I'd be very interested to see the same analysis for gay and lesbian sites.

    • option12 says:

      another explanation for myspace face :

      you can't tell that in reality the girl weighs in at 300 lbs if all you see is a distorted shot of her face from above. The cues that tell you what is going on get lost in the noise

      • hadlock says:

        a friend of mine is on okcupid; one of her photos has a description of what's going on, appended with "AKA the I-am-not-200lbs shot"

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