David Alston's Uncanny Valley
In 1970 a professor of robotics named Masahiro Mori called the eerie likeness of Robots to human the Uncanny Valley. In this Valley a robot can behave in spectacular ways and may look just like us, but there is something off. The only way to describe it is a feeling. ‘For whatever reason,’ we say, ‘Something’s just off.” Try as it might, the robot cannot convince us, that they are us.
In the studio David told me of his own personal flavor of the Uncanny Valley experience in virtual reality. David was playing a game inside the virtual word where his hands were visible. They were eerily real. When David finished playing the game he removed his headset, transporting him back to the real world. For a split second, when he looked at his hands, his brain had to double check with itself that what it was seeing was indeed it’s own hands.
Although not the Uncanny Valley as Masahiro described, this story demonstrates how the tech-human gap is closing drastically. Land-locked phones became smart phones, smart phones became wearables, wearables will become implants. Do we lose something of ourselves when this happens or do we achieve our true potential?
An optimist will see 21st-century change as an incredible opportunity.
Our brains have more neurons than there are stars in our galaxy and somewhere therein, is housed the mind. Our minds can consider infinity, but it lives in a remarkably complicated and eventually decaying body. Our minds can consider the immortal but our bodies are unbelievably mortal and fragile.
In this vein, perhaps tech in all it’s forms is an attempt to free the mind. Maybe this will be what we remember as the point of doing all of this in the first place.
Perhaps it’s time to leave mindless things to things with no mind. The industrial era worked because the demand was greater than the supply. There was no shortage of work to be done and humans became the labor that satisfied the production of technology. We soon realized that the full potential of a human being was not realized on the production line. We’ve created mindless jobs with mindless tasks repeated on a loop and it is had led to a meaning crisis. We’re now taking our potential and our time back by leaving mindless things to things with no mind. We’re freeing our minds from simple, repetitive, unfulfilling tasks.
Our limited bodies can’t keep up with our unlimited minds. We’re creating bionic ligament replacements, artificial hearts and new joints that work far better than those we originally developed. If we prevent our bodies from decaying can we all live healthy, prosperous lives well into our 100th year? Our body is merely a vehicle for the mind, and we’re now freeing our unlimited minds from our limited bodies.
Our body is physical and our mind is metaphysical: our bodies could be in Austin, Texas but the mind can be exploring the amazon. All it needs is a facilitator. We now have that facilitator. What is it like to fly like an albatross? What is it like to take your first steps on Mars or to sails uncharted seas? How will virtual reality influence geriatric care, allow those physically disabled to travel the world once more and allow scientists to explore the deepest reaches of the ocean? The virtual world will disentangle our metaphysical minds from our physical bodies and allow us to journey within.