National Defense Magazine featured an article this month on Avatars invading military training systems. Interestingly enough the Army is looking into training where an avatar is created for each soldier. These digital figures would stay with the service member throughout their training career. Training would then be customized to each individual trainee by a full fledged digital representation of oneself. My thoughts are that if it can be done cost effectively and the “realness” of the avatar makes the soldier more immersed in the game then I am all for it. But if the personalization options are limited then it may be money/ time wasted and the military may be better off just training with general avatars so that the trainee can escape reality for time and become someone else.
The blog post title may have you scratching the top of your head a little bit…The “Uncanny Valley” is a phenomenon that leads to a reaction from an all ‘but-not-quite-right’ simulated human form, whether it be robotic or animated. The term was invented by roboticist Masahiro Mori to depict the negative emotional response ‘real’ humans exhibit when a robot (avatar) seems practically human. Appearance and action are the two biggest factors that could potentially lead to this phenomenon playing out while one is immersed in a virtual world. Thus the overall quality of the avatar is paramount in any type of training simulation, the worst thing you can do is lead the player to possess detachment from the training. The human brain never ceases to amaze me.
“Mori’s hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.”
“This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is “almost human” will seem overly “strange” to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.”
You can see by the graph representation below that the “valley” in question is a dip in the graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s lifelikeness.
In all fairness, I guess I should disclose that one such study that examined the Uncanny Valley principle did involve monkeys…Monkey see, monkey do.