Beyond the Uncanny Valley of the Dolls

February 9, 2017, 6:00 pm   » 

Beyond the Uncanny Valley of the Dolls
Ken Goldberg, UC Berkeley

Thursday, February 9th in the EDA at 6PM

"I want to be a robot." - Andy Warhol

In 1919, a year before the word “robot” was coined, Sigmund Freud published an influential essay, Das Unheimliche, later translated into English as “The Uncanny”. The essay and the concept of the Uncanny are familiar to literary theorists and art historians, who have charted its the literary and theatrical origins of the concept through works by ETA Hoffman, Mary Shelley, Karel Capek, and Eric Asimov, its rich history in psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and philosophy, from Jensch to Freud to to Heidegger to Derrida to Cixous to what Martin Jay described as the “master trope” of the 1990’s.

However, the Uncanny remains esoteric and unfamiliar to engineers, designers, and the public. They are familiar with the Uncanny Valley, a related but distinct concept that originated in 1970. I'll describe the Uncanny in plain language, trace its origins back to Descartes and medieval automata, and show how relates to our contemporary human fear and fascination with a broad variety of technologies from AI to cosmetics to robots to Siri to Google Glass to zombies.

In my own art and research, I'm interested in mortality and the boundary between what is alive and what is life-like. I'll present a series of short films and artworks that explores this boundary, including the Telegarden (1995-2004), an online installation that let participants tend a living garden using an industrial robot via the Internet.


Cultivating the Uncanny: The Telegarden and Other Oddities. Elizabeth Jochum and Ken Goldberg. Chapter 8 of Robots and Art: Exploring an Unlikely Symbiosis. Edited by Damith Herath, Christian Kroos, and Stelarc. Springer Press. Summer 2016:

EDA  (Map)
Broad Art Center
240 Charles E. Young Drive, Room 1250
Los Angeles, CA 90095
+Parking is $12 all day, and is available in structure 3, adjacent to the building. For more information, call 310.825.9007.