We have discussed the phenomenon of the uncanny valley here before. It is the phenomenon in which a robot or animation looks enough like a human to trigger our neural human recognition system but unhuman enough to trigger our neural mismatch/somethings wrong system (I can go into the neuroanatomy if someone asks in the comments).
Clive Thompson, one of my favorite Wired Magazine contributors (as you can tell since I have cited him before), had this article in the May issue. He talks about something Google did for him that hit the uncanny valley.
Recent experiments suggest that I’m not alone in my discomfort. Colin Strong, a marketing consultant in the UK, storyboared several high tech customization scenarios, ranging from the simple (targeted direct mail) to the sophisticated, like health insurance companies crawling info on your food purchase habits to adjust your premiums. When he showed the scenarios to subjects, he found that the more personalized the services got, the more people liked them – until they got too personalized.
It is great when companies customize our experience based on our specific needs. They do it a lot with advertising (not as exciting), but also the activity itself. But when it gets too personal, it gets creepy. If a friend did what Google did, Clive would have appreciated the effort. But Google? Uncanny valley. Creepy.
He cites two examples that I had opposite reactions to. In the first, Google recognized that he was on vacation (geolocation far from home and lots of photographs uploaded) and did him a big favor by curating a slide show of his photographs to show him upon his return. It wasn’t shared externally, so this wasn’t a privacy violation in that sense. But it felt like a personal intrusion, regardless of the quality of the slideshow.
The second example was a physical user experience. A food scientist 3D printed some bananas. One was kind of like a banana, but obviously fake. Sort of a circus peanut version. But it was not too close so it seemed cool. The second was very close to a real banana, texture and all. Respondents reacted poorly to that one. Too close. Uncanny valley.
Do either or both of these hit you in your uncanny valley? I wonder what other areas of user experience have an uncanny valley. Have you experienced one in your own work? Health care? Ecommerce?
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