In the Uncanny Valley

A term invented by Masahihro Mori, who observed that when roboticists get close to life-like but not close enough, what was endearing quickly becomes repellent.
—National Geographic, August 2011

Actuators raise my android arms; my
biomimetic body responds to my brain. If
conscience really is what makes us human,
do I dare trust mine or should you override the
ethical adapter that enables me to choose, but
forces me to face frontiers with programmed
guilt? A gift, I guess if guilt, too, makes me
human. Still, the horror in your face
indicates that I am a mirror imperfect. “I’m
just a robot,” I’ve been taught to say to
keep at bay your thoughts of killing me. You see,
like you, I want to live, but unlike you,
murder is not on my mind. My
network of neural fibers fears
oblivion, but won’t obey the inner voice that tells me to
push you over the precipice, protect my not-
quite-human self. I observe you as you
rationalize your rage, insist that I’m not real,
see silicon, and eye blinks nanoseconds slow as
technology tempts us in this treacherous terrain, this
Uncanny Valley, universe unknown. Here the
vicious nature of your nature is your vice. You
walk with weapon raised; your willing laser
X-marks the spot where my circuit will break.
Yea, though I walk no more, I reach toward you,
zombie-like hands entreating a-nn-ddd zzzzzzzzzz.

—Joan Wiese Johannes