Death Thought Accessibility and the Uncanny Valley of Robotics

Death Thought Accessibility and the Uncanny Valley of Robotics

Reading Time: 1 minute

Death Thought Accessibility and the Uncanny Valley of Robotics

Humanlike robots can prompt unconscious concerns and thoughts about death in our minds, called “death thought accessibility,” or DTA. It’s these thoughts that contribute to what is known as the uncanny valley, the idea that humanoid robots that closely mirror the look and behavior of people make us feel uncomfortable.


  1. What do you mean Sir.?

  2. Super interesting, thanks for sharing.

  3. Thought provoking. Thank you Gideon Rosenblatt 

  4. I think they’re making a little too much of the death thought thing, but emotion is absolutely what the discomfort phenomenon is about. (I won’t even call it the uncanny valley, but a disturbing mismatch does occur when you have what looks more like a person but does not act like one.) The acting like one has two multiple dimensions but the big two are physical movement and emotional behavior.

    Motion capture of body movements in 3D model-based animation makes a huge difference in believability, whether it drives a realistic humanoid figure or a fantastic creature. ‘Body language’ is very nuanced and our reaction to it is deep and largely subconscious.

    Emotional expression can be imbued with language alone, facial animation alone (even as minimal as obviously mechanical eyebrows and eyelids ), or even projection of emotion (like C3PO interpreting for R2D2 in Star Wars) but combine them and we will accept just about anything as a ‘person’, as in cartoons.

    The more photorealistic physical robots or animations become, the more difficult it is to match the level of detail in emotional expression to the level of physical detail.

    I don’t think there is any reason to even push for that at all. We can accept robots into society in forms that are quite far from ‘can’t tell one from a human’.

  5. I just don’t think we will be able to resist the temptation of trying to mimic ourselves, Joe Repka. We will continue to drive for replicants.

    A couple weeks back, I had the opportunity to ‘meet’ a very realistic social robot called Nadine while I was in Singapore. My experience was that I never once forgot that I was interacting with a robot. But it did have little tricks like turning its head and looking me straight in the eye before speaking, and just that little tricky was a little unnerving.

  6. Yeah, Laura Courtney, actually what the robot said when it turned its head and looked me in the eye, was reply “Age of Ultron” to my question about what was its favorite movie.¬†

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up here for the latest articles. You can opt out at any time.

Subscribe by email:

Or subscribe by RSS:

%d bloggers like this: