• Michael Weeding

Should “uncanny valley” be used to describe creepy personalisation?

The “uncanny valley” is a term coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori to describe the revulsion people experience when seeing robots that look and act almost, but not exactly, like humans. So should we be using this term to describe the creepiness people will feel when personalisation closes in on reality in the digital world?

As we move into the next evolution of the digital age when technology becomes ubiquitous driven by wearables and experiences become more personal driven by data many believe we will potentially enter the “uncanny valley”.

For almost 30 years, the concept of the uncanny valley has acted as a golden rule for roboticists and animators so can the Digital community just adopt this term and use it freely to describe personalisation gone bad?

By using this label we are concluding that the same principles apply, the closer to reality we come when delivering personalised experiences the more revulsion someone will feel.

The problem I have with this association is that I cannot see the relationship between the eeriness people will feel when a robot approached but failed, to take a lifelike appearance and the creepy feeling driven by personalisation delivered through digital channels.

The value of data and technology is that of creating relevant experiences. If managed correctly they will add value, if managed poorly they will just annoy of frustrate people, not shift people’s emotions from empathy to revulsion.

So maybe “uncanny valley” is a term that should not be loosely adopted by the digital community, if its origins comes from robotics that is where it should stay. We should find another phrase that better describes the so called “creepiness” that someone will feel when personalisation closes in on reality.

Then again maybe we should just manage the way data is being used to drive personalised experience very carefully in the future?

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