Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why 'Terminator' Is So Creepy

The movie "Terminator Salvation" tells of the human resistance struggling to defeat Skynet and its robot army. Credit: Warner Bros.

From Live Science:

Hollywood and robotics researchers have long struggled with the "uncanny valley," where a movie character or robot falls into the unsettling gap between human and not-quite-human. One psychologist likes to demonstrate this by holding up a plastic baby doll and asking audiences if they think it's alive. They say no.

Then she takes out a saw and starts cutting the doll's head off, but quickly stops upon seeing the uncomfortable audience reactions.

"I think that part of their brain is thinking the doll is alive, and you can't shut that off," said Thalia Wheatley, a psychologist at Dartmouth College.

Similar sensations abound in the movie "Terminator Salvation," which tells the story of the artificial intelligence Skynet and its army of robots threatening to wipe out humanity in 2018. The uncanny twist comes when Skynet begins disturbing experiments that combine human flesh with robotic strength.

Scientists have begun to understand what happens in the human brain when it encounters the uncanny valley. And like the post-apocalyptic future of "Terminator," it's not pretty — a murky landscape where conflict rages upon confronting a challenge to our human identity.

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