JCL Blog

Expectations and the Uncanny Valley

I find myself lucky to be exposed to the most interesting issues as I work on our RetroDex event.  In particular the intersection of virtual worlds and the real world.  Most recently I came across the subject of the Uncanny Valley on one of my favorite radio shows (podcasts), NPR's On the Media.

The Uncanny Valley is the name animators give to the negative correlation between audience acceptance of their craft as it approaches perfection.  In other words, as viewers we much prefer an animated being that looks animated enough to clearly not be human.  For the last decade or so, technology has enabled the creators of animated beings to enter the Uncanny Valley and render an image so lifelike that it disturbs the audience.  As a result, ever since Dreamworks created the first Shrek movie in 2001, technology ceased to be the limitation and the artists had to intentionally back off on the realism of their creations.

What a wild idea.  We like the way animations approximate the human form and are constantly asking for better and better animations.  But at some point the image generated leaves the realm of great animation and enters the realm of a human with flaws -- and we get nauseous.

There are many ways this translates into business.  One is linked to the common quip "Even the worst day [insert favorite activity here] is better than the best day at the office."  We work hard at CSG to create a great place to work and are making pretty good progress.  However, if we slip into a warped expectations zone like the uncanny valley we will never succeed.  After all work is work and not soaking up the sun on the beach.