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A Walk Through the Shadow of the Uncanny Valley
If it sometimes feels like it’s impossible to keep up with the torrent of information, data and digital content that’s being created every day online, you’re not alone.
If it sometimes feels like it’s impossible to keep up with the torrent of information, data and digital content that’s being created every day online, you’re not alone. Within the next few years, it’s highly conceivable that many of us will have enhanced versions of ourselves that are able to complete all the routine online tasks – such as updating our social networking profiles or applying to jobs – that are already within the limits of artificial intelligence. In fact, the entire Transhumanism movement is based around that very idea – that soon, a hybrid of human and machine intelligence will make it possible to transcend our current cognitive limits. Yet, to get from Point A (the present) to Point B (the future), we will need to walk through the shadows of the Uncanny Valley – and that journey could indeed be perilous, fraught with many ethical and moral dilemmas.
In layman’s terms, the Uncanny Valley refers to a controversial idea from the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence that humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to reject “nearly human” entities. The hypothesis, coined by Japanese robotics researcher Masahiro Mori nearly 40 years ago, states that "as the appearance of a robot is made more human, our emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. Then, as the appearance of the robot becomes indistinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more." The Uncanny Valley refers to "this area of repulsive response" that a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely human" and "fully human" entity is able to arouse. In short, robots that are 95% human are creepy and repulsive, but robots that are 99.9% human are kinda warm and cuddly.
Popular culture is filled with examples of our fear, uncertainty and doubt in the Uncanny Valley. In science fiction, nearly-human robots and replicants always appear strange and overtly threatening. In horror movies, creatures that are human but lack some emotional attachment (e.g. Stepford Wives) populate the Uncanny Valley of our imaginations. Or, consider the characters in animated movies like "Polar Express," which have been criticized for looking disturbingly not-quite-human. The concept of the Uncanny Valley has even been referenced on the TV show 30 Rock.
We’re now almost at a point where, at least online, digital representations of humans are able to fool millions of people. Consider the recent brouhaha in Japan over the beautiful pop sensation Aimi Eguchi, who turned out to be a clever digital amalgamation of several different girls in the band AKB48. At some point, it will it no longer be possible to distinguish between machines and humans on the Internet.
This will be the other side of the Uncanny Valley, where humans will enhance themselves – whether through biology or robotics or artificial intelligence – to a point where they begin to possess “uncanny” abilities – such as superior cognition or extraordinary physical abilities. As futurists such as Jamais Cascio point out, "So long as these enhancements remain within a perceived norm of human behavior, a negative reaction is unlikely, but once individuals supplant normal human variety, we can expect an outcry of revulsion." However, once such technological enhancements accelerate away from conventional human norms, "transhuman" individuals would begin to be perceived as entirely separate entities (Supermen?) altogether.
It’s impossible to reach The Singularity without first successfully traversing the Uncanny Valley. What will be our reaction, however, when advances in biology and artificial intelligence make it possible for some members of our society to gain an advantage over others, by virtue of their uncanny cognitive and physical abilities? When we look at them, we will no longer recognize ourselves – and it is then that the ethical, moral and religious questions will intensify. (Transhumanism, remember, is one of the world's most dangerous ideas.) Will we see our enhanced selves as abominations of nature, or as merely the next logical step in the evolution of the human race?
A cave in France contains man’s earliest-known structures that had to be built by Neanderthals who were believed to be incapable of such things.
In a French cave deep underground, scientists have discovered what appear to be 176,000-year-old man-made structures. That's 150,000 years earlier than any that have been discovered anywhere before. And they could only have been built by Neanderthals, people who were never before considered capable of such a thing.
Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.
- Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
- A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
- A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter<p>Still, it's not as if the moon is dripping wet. The observations suggest that a cubic meter of the lunar surface (in the Clavius crater site, at least) contains water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million. That's roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water. In comparison, the same plot of land in the Sahara desert contains about 100 times more water.</p><p>But a second study suggests other parts of the lunar surface also contain water — and potentially lots of it. Also publishing their findings in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1198-9#_blank" target="_blank">Nature Astronomy</a> on Monday, the researchers used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study "cold traps" near the moon's polar regions. These areas of the lunar surface are permanently covered in shadows. In fact, about 0.15 percent of the lunar surface is permanently shadowed, and it's here that water could remain frozen for millions of years.</p><p>Some of these permanently shadowed regions are huge, extending more than a kilometer wide. But others span just 1 cm. These smaller "micro cold traps" are much more abundant than previously thought, and they're spread out across more regions of the lunar surface, according to the new research.</p>
Credit: dottedyeti via AdobeStock<p>Still, the second study didn't confirm that ice is embedded in micro cold traps. But if there is, it would mean that water would be much more accessible to astronauts, considering they wouldn't have to travel into deep, shadowy craters to extract water.</p><p>Greater accessibility to water would not only make it easier for astronauts to get drinking water, but could also enable them to generate rocket fuel and power.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the advanced exploration systems division for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement. "If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."</p>