Saturday, October 17, 2009

Be disturbed

Paddy O’Reilly presented a paper on the uncanny at a recent post grad conference. Put simply, she talked about Freud’s notion of the uncanny as the way the unfamiliar and the familiar come together and leave us feeling ‘queasy’ inside. Paddy used images from robotics to make the point.

She put on a U-tube of Big Dog. A military styled robot that can assist in wartime operations.

We watched the film clip and Paddy who sat in front remarked on the amazing expressions on our faces as we moved through states of awe and pity for the strange creature that struggled to right itself while walking on ice and a sudden shiver of revulsion whenever the blend of human and non-human came together. It is this combination of the familiar and unfamiliar, the human and the nonhuman that disturbs our cognitive tranquility, that makes us wince, turn away and at the same time titillates.

I thought of ET. I thought of those strange faceless dolls that were popular some time ago. Paddy also showed a short video of this giant little girl who is manipulated to walk through the streets by cranes and pulleys. Dracula comes to mind. Pinocchio, as well. The non-human into the human. It fascinates and yet we recoil.

Take a look and be disturbed.


Jim Murdoch said...

They were both impressive in their own way but how the 'dog' coped with the ice and being kicked was something else. You might find this video of a giant robotic spider interesting.

I guess this is why Asimov prophesised in his robot stories that people wouldn't embrace them – as the world of the film I, Robot portrays - but rather would be in fear of them because they looked like them but were not them. I think it's one thing seeing a wee video like these but to interact with one of these would be very different. I don't think we would trust them unreservedly.

Elisabeth said...

Presumably the 'dog' coped well with being kicked, given that it's not a dog, it's a robot.
Though as we watch it slithering over the ice, we hold our breaths, imagining it might fall and hurt itself.
I gather it might break but I supposed it's wired to regain its balance, as it does.
It's strange to think of the big dog as an 'it', when it's movements, at least at the level of its legs are so human-like.

Your spider, Jim, didn't have the same effect on me, though I imagine those who are phobic about spiders might be more disturbed.